My father loved Bill Cosby. My dad was also an educator and a comic performer, but Coz was the real deal. My parents took pride in Cosby as fellow Philadelphian and Temple alum who done good; and in their retirement years, reruns of his TV show were often the centerpiece of their living room. I am certain my dad is turning over in his grave, just as my stomach is turning and my head is spinning over the growing pile of accusations that America’s favorite father is a sexual predator.
So, how many women have to say “me, too,” and brave recounting one of the worst experiences of their lives before the public can believe that a beloved, admired “role model” violated women in such a shocking and disgusting way?
Will the news media stop using the label “alleged” to when the body count hits 20?
In the eyes of the justice system, Cosby is innocent until proven guilty. But the justice system doesn’t work so well for victims of sexual assault; women are typically blamed for what happened to them or deemed suspect for trying to take or shake a good man down. Proof is yet another burden on the victim. Her character and judgment and memory and reputation are attacked. That’s why so few pursue justice in a court of law. Sixty-three percent never even report it to the police. (See NSVRC.) Shame is a great silencer.
Recently, my 11-year-old daughter has been making her way through old TV series on Hulu, including some of my own childhood favorites: I Love Lucy, The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Brady Bunch. For the last month or so she’s been binge-watching The Cosby Show. I recommended it, after all The Cosby Show was harmless, G-rated entertainment and a rare opportunity for her to see many African American characters on the screen. What now?
I don’t want her to watch Cosby. But I also don’t want to tell her why. She loves the show and to take it away without good reason seems unfair. But to tell her the real cause for my alarm would shatter her innocence, just as the revelations about Cosby are shattering the blind faith so many of us placed in him. In a way, it feels as if he drugged and violated us all. In Cosby, we are reminded not only that we don’t really know the people we think we know, but, that somehow even the truly “good guys” of the world can turn out to be the truly bad guys. I just can’t bear to let Bill Cosby playing Cliff Huxtable charm his way into my daughter’s heart.
Sexual violence is becoming bigger news these days. Rape with impunity seems rampant on college campuses. (Read Sabrina Rubin Erdley’s latest story in Rolling Stone.) The U.S. military is plagued by sexual assault. (Read Matthew Hay Brown’s The Baltimore Sun story about male rape victims.) Clergy, coaches and school teachers have preyed on young people. (Check out Anna Orso’s Patriot News investigation of teacher misconduct in Pennsylvania.)
Just this week I received a newsletter from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center and noticed right away that all but one of the people in the staff photograph are female. What’s wrong with this picture?
It’s time for the "good men" of the world to own this issue. Posting a tweet with the hashtag #notallmen is #notnearlyenough. Men are nearly entirely responsible for rape so the responsibility for preventing it belongs largely to them. There are a few campaigns underway to engage men:
- Man Up, led by journalist Jimmie Briggs
- It’s On Us, a White House-led campus pledge campaign
- Men Can Stop Rape also has a list of local groups.
- Emma Watson’s He for She campaign
- A Call to Men
Perhaps it’s also time for male journalists to recognize that reporting on violence against women isn’t women’s work either. You can start by taking this free online course at Poynter. Since February, 2013, 913 people have taken the brief course to better report on sexual violence. Perhaps you can help Poynter break the 1000 mark. Don't pass on it; pass it on.