The Cosby Phenomenon and What to Do About It

With unacceptable numbers of rapes on college campuses, crimes on the rise, and the number of Cosby accusers at an all-time high, it's time our society finally take seriously accusations about rape and violence. For most victims of violence, coming out to society is painful and humiliating.
12/22/2015 11:17 am ET Updated Dec 22, 2016

Bill Cosby lived the ultimate fairytale. He made it big, was successful, earned lots of money, and was touted by our society as father figure supreme. This is why allegations of sexual assault came as a huge surprise to our country, and why discussions about the allegations' veracity are still going on, after months and months have passed and after over 50 alleged victims have stepped forward, and continue to do so.

As early as 2014, Cosby's lawyer, Martin Singer, refuted reports of sexual violence on the part of Cosby, using the argument that too much time had passed between the violations themselves and the dates they were reported,

The new, never-before-heard claims from women who have come forward in the past two weeks with unsubstantiated, fantastical stories about things they say occurred 30, 40, or even 50 years ago have escalated far past the point of absurdity.

Now it's almost 2016, and Cosby is suing 7 of his accusers for defamation of his name. Support for Bill Cosby dwindles with each new accusation. But why did it take so long for our society to take allegations against Cosby seriously? Were the claims against Cosby really absurd or are we failing to create space in our society for victims to talk about violence?

Once America's most beloved father figure, Cosby has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing through his lawyer, spokesman and wife.

It is this very reference to the "beloved father figure" that is problematic for those who have been abused by these types of figures. Perhaps it's human nature to put people into boxes. We say that if A is true, B couldn't possibly be true. A person who is capable of C couldn't possibly be capable of D. However, humans are complex, capable of many things, including kindness and rape on the same day. I know. I experienced violence three different times in my life, at the hands of people I trusted. These events made me look deep into the human heart. What I am more and more convinced of is that in order for women to feel safe talking about, reporting, and facing violence, our society has to give them permission to acknowledge the whole person who committed the violence, not just the act itself.

Women have been accusing Bill Cosby of sexual violence since 2005 and in almost every case they have been shut down, ignored, or accused of lying. In reality, the decision to come forward about Bill Cosby was probably the most difficult decision they've ever made. Why weren't they initially believed? Because we are talking about a beloved father figure after all.

And the Cosby Phenomenon happens over and over again. According to the National Institute of Justice, one of the greatest reasons why women don't talk about or report abuse is because they are afraid of not being believed. Jewell Anderson discussed this phenomenon in an interview about why she waited to come out about Cosby. Anderson stated,

I understand why we're in denial, I understand why we don't want to believe this I didn't want to believe it.

With unacceptable numbers of rapes on college campuses, crimes on the rise, and the number of Cosby accusers at an all-time high, it's time our society finally take seriously accusations about rape and violence. For most victims of violence, coming out to society is painful and humiliating. It is especially difficult when the accusations concern somebody who is valued, Bill Cosby case in point. Women often remain silent, but at a tremendous cost to their own sense of self. Yes, Bill Cosby is a public figure who served as a role model on and off camera -- but that doesn't erase the fact that to date more than 50 women have accused him of sexual assault. We must acknowledge that people who do public good may also be doing private bad. And it is vital we take them to task.

What can you as an individual do for the thousands of women who have experienced violence but haven't received the resources or support they need? Support them if they do come forward. Make yourself a safe person within your community to talk about violence by actively discussing the complexities of the Cosby Phenomenon. Acknowledge that Cosby has done good things for our society. Acknowledge how hard it must be for women to come forward as a result. Remember, 1 in 6 women have experienced a rape or an attempted rape and approximately 80,000 American children are sexually abused each year. Chances are somebody you know is one of them.