Bill Cosby, the once-beloved comedian, sitcom star and “family” man has recently been embroiled in a mass of controversy over allegations he sexually assaulted numerous women beginning in the late 1960s. I know, this isn’t exactly breaking news. What is new, however, is the number of women who have accused him of vile sexual misconduct. When the story first broke, there were a handful of women who came forward with similar stories of being drugged and sexually assaulted. Over the weekend, that number reached 60. Let that sink in for a minute.
In 2005, Andrea Constand filed a civil lawsuit against Cosby. At the time, twelve additional accusers were prepared to testify against him. Though the case was initially settled out of court, Cosby now faces criminal charges for sexual assault against her. Since being charged, details of the 79 year-old’s actions have continued to emerge, each as disturbing as the next.
It’s a tough pill to swallow (no pun intended), at least for me. I grew up listening to my parents’ Bill Cosby comedy records. My family and I would watch ‘The Cosby Show’ together and never missed an episode. I begged my mom to buy pudding pops from the store, rationalizing they couldn’t be junk food because Bill Cosby endorsed them. He spoke of his wife Camille with such love and adoration. He was a huge proponent of kindness, love and family. When his son Ennis, whose signature greeting was ‘Hello, friend,’ was murdered in cold blood in 1997, it seemed as if we had all lost a beloved pal. How could it be true this seemingly wonderful public figure might actually be a cold-hearted, calculated monster in private? When we have such a fixed image of a person, especially one we don’t know personally (often the case with our favorite celebs), it’s tough to think they could be capable of something as heinous as this.
More often than not, particularly in cases of sexual violence against women, we’re quick to point fingers at the victim instead of the alleged assailant. This is true in most cases of rape committed against both women and men (out of every 1,000 rapes, only 344 are reported to the police.) It is absolutely true when the alleged assailant happens to be rich and famous with a reputation for being a wholesome do-gooder. Words get thrown around like “gold digger,” “famewhore,” “slut.” We ask what the victim was wearing, how much they had to drink or whether or not they were behaving in a flirtatious manner. None of which, by the way, matters in the least. Why do we do this? Do we feel like we are betraying the alleged assailant by entertaining the idea they may actually be capable of such behavior? If the accusations are true, does that make us guilty for having supported and adored the person for so long?
Most people believe the face they wear in public is the same face they wear in private. This is often not the case (especially online), as we are a species programmed for survival. To ensure our own self-preservation, we subconsciously deploy defense mechanisms solely for this purpose, especially on the Internet. The need to justify our actions is one such mechanism. Based in the cognitive dissonance theory of social psychology, this need stems from feeling uncomfortable when faced with thoughts about a behavior that does not match our own self-concept. When we feel uncomfortable, we either change our present behavior, or find a way to justify our current behavior with our past behavior, thereby coinciding with a popular view or belief. Ding, ding, ding!
During his sworn deposition in 2005, Mr. Cosby admitted to obtaining Quaaludes and giving them to women he wanted to have sex with. He also admitted to having seven prescriptions for the powerful sedative, and to giving three Benadryl tablets to Ms. Constand. When asked if he had given pills to another young woman, who was 19 at the time of the alleged assault, Cosby replied, “I meet Ms. (Redacted) in Las Vegas. She meets me back stage. I give her Quaaludes. We then have sex. I do not, I can’t judge at this time what she knows about herself for 19 years, a passive personality.” See what he did there? If that doesn’t scream “justifying one’s own actions,” I don’t know what does.
How this ‘Cosby Show’ will end, I don’t know. What I do know is it won’t involve Dr. Cliff Huxtable and his wife Clair dancing cheek-to-cheek to smooth jazz as they exit stage left. Pennsylvania Judge Elizabeth A. McHugh ruled there was enough evidence in the case regarding Ms. Constand to proceed, which could result in the two facing each other in court. The date of the trial has yet to be set.
Reality sure does sting sometimes, doesn’t it?
rainn.org: The Criminal Justice System: Statistics