“It is a blow to our stories. A hit to our voices. A sting to our advocacy.”
I, like many other survivors of sexual assault, molestation and rape mourned when I watched Bill Cosby, the former entertainer, now unmasked, serial offender leave prison. Courts overturned his convictions on what we as ‘lay persons’ deem a legal technicality. We’ve felt abandonment, and re-violation ever since.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court freed Cosby because of prosecutorial misconduct in the handling of his case. A previous prosecuting attorney in a civil case struck a deal that promised immunity if Cosby cooperated. Cosby did cooperate, and their pointed questions elicited his damning answers. These answers proved his predatory sexual behavior. Under oath, he admitted he acquired seven prescriptions for Quaaludes, a powerful sedative, in order to give to women he wanted to have sexual relations with. He then assaulted them sexually while they were under the influence.
To be fair, as a citizen of the United States of America, due process grants Cosby the right to be tried in fairness and with impartiality. In this case, the justice system erred, critically, by reneging on its agreement. But for that agreement, however, Cosby’s actions would constitute rape for which he would be held criminally responsible. These women were unwilling and, or, unaware participants in an act perpetrated against their bodies. Yet, Cosby walked free. Unencumbered. Unharnessed. Unmoved. Bold and brash. And, because of the legal protection against double jeopardy, Cosby can not be re-tried for those incidents. In the wake of his freedom, languish sixty deposed women who shared the most intimate, shameful, embarrassing parts of their lives for the world to see.
Justice, Right, and the Complicated Consequences
To be clear, being in the right legally, does not constitute being right morally. The “technicality” in Cosby’s case doesn’t erase his actions. Too many celebrate this court decision as a verdict that “gets even.” They think of it as righteous retribution in a system that is unfair to blacks and persons of color. Granted, the legal system has been overly unjust to ‘us’. Nevertheless, Cosby is not a black man being unfairly attacked. He is a black man who attacked unfairly. His record of immoral behavior leaves a glaring stain on his name and reputation. In the court of public opinion, Cosby convicted himself when he admitted that he drugged these women, and that pointed to his predilection for sexual deviancy.
In the meantime, this debacle dealt a blow to all of us who have been violated sexually. It is a blow to our stories. A hit to our voices. A sting to our advocacy. We already know that the negative impact will continue to pull away those who were on the precipice of sharing and healing. They now retreat to their perceived safe spaces, afraid to out their abusers, and the supporters of these perpetrators.
More trauma. Hiding again. More therapy. Healing. Repeat.
Mental health professionals have been bombarded with calls from those who need an emotional hiding place. And, to further damage our psyche, there will be the “Phylica Rashads” of our world, who have strong public personas, powerful voices and seemingly perfect and respectful reputations who will uplift and fend for their former employers, lending additional gravitas to those offenders.
Equally sad is the unfailing support of the significant others, who share intimate space and relationship with the perpetrator, who, if knowing, put on blinders to this type misconduct, demonstrating the ultimate betrayal of sisterhood. “What profiteth a woman to gain the world, and lose their soul?”
Toxic masculinity is on full display in our court systems, in our churches, in our communities and in our homes. Toxic masculinity is nothing more than males masking as masculine. Under the banner of patriarchy, violators carry on their tenuous track of offending. We’ve witnessed the President of the most powerful nation on earth, flaunt his predatory behavior, seemingly getting away with his dalliances, and giving others approval to do the same.
Cross the Line
Where are our spiritual healers? Where is the church? What is the church’s stance on this behavior, or is there a stance? More specifically, what is the Black church’s position in this matter? We’ve long been too silent on issues of rape, incest and sexual assault. We have long covered for, dismissed mannish behavior as boys behaving like boys regarding the acts of sexual predation. We’ve long been asked to pray away sexual proclivities, even when criminal, so as not to bring a pall over revered people, religions, faiths, beliefs and creeds. And, we have long ensured, with our failure to support the wounded, that victims will continue to be victims rather than victors. Historically and generationally, we’ve been taught to never accuse powerful men – the Cosbys, the Weinsteins, the R. Kellys, the Jeffrey Epsteins, the Matt Goetz’, as we could bring a pall over our lives in doing so.
When will religious organizations collectively take a powerful stance against this growing crisis? Can our principled spiritual entities truly become the heads, and not the tails in turning over the tables in the courts of rape? Will professed sacred establishments cross the line to become advocates on behalf of ‘the least of these’? When will we stop being afraid to put our religious institutions on the line? When will our houses or worship become the right hand to therapists, and start the true healing of the violated? It is past time for all who claim spiritual elitism to garner enough courage to stand up, and stand out, on behalf of the wounded.