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Defending Bill Cosby – The Victim Blame Game

Like many of us, I was once a fan of Bill Cosby, and particularly The Cosby Show while it aired. The Cosby Show promoted wholesome family values. The show, and Mr. Cosby himself, did not shy away from confronting difficult social issues of the time. I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge his significant body of philanthropic work, and other good deeds.

However, according to now over 100 women, Mr. Cosby was living a double life. While Mr. Cosby was promoting family values, he was also an alleged serial abuser, rapist, and cheater. By now, the sordid stories of Quaaludes and non-consensual sex are well known.
His best known accuser is Andrea Constand , who in 2005 filed a civil lawsuit against Mr. Cosby for an alleged sexual assault. That lawsuit was settled by Mr. Cosby, and ended his long and close association with Temple University where Ms. Constand was an employee.
Through a series of legal maneuvers related to the confidentiality of that settlement, Mr. Cosby’s deposition in the Constand case was released in recent years. Admissions made by Mr. Cosby himself in that deposition resulted in criminal charges against him in Montgomery County, PA. That criminal trial just ended in a hung jury. After hearing all the evidence, most jurors favored a conviction, and it appears the Montgomery District Attorney will retry the case against Mr. Cosby.

As a victim advocate, I followed with great interest the social media postings about the criminal trial cluttering my timeline. And, I was shocked by the defense of Mr. Cosby, and in particular offended by how he was defended – by blaming the alleged victims. In an effort to better educate those who would blame his alleged victims, let us examine some of the more common themes offered in his defense, and the underlying absurdity of those claims

“All those women who claimed rape, and not a single one went to the police.”

In every alleged instance of sexual assault leveled against Mr. Cosby, the victim knew Mr. Cosby. This type of sexual assault is often referred to as “acquaintance rape.” Acquaintance rape is perpetrated by a person who is known to the victim – someone the victim is dating, a classmate, co-worker, employer, family member, spouse, counselor, therapist, religious official, or medical doctor. Statistics suggest only about two-percent of acquaintance rape is reported by the victim. This translates to two victims out of a one-hundred who might report such an assault. Mr. Cosby has been accused by a little more than 100 women of either rape, drug facilitated sexual assault, sexual battery, child sexual abuse, and/or sexual misconduct. Of those one-hundred or so alleged victims, the published statistics suggest we might expect two of those victims to report the assault, and one actually did – Ms. Constand. Accordingly, the lack of reporting by his alleged victims is consistent with the statistics, and not evidence of Mr. Cosby’s innocence.

Studies also suggest that victims of acquaintance rape do not report the crime because they may not self-identify as rape victims. They may not realize, or choose not to accept themselves as rape victims. In addition, women who had consumed alcohol or drugs at the time of the rape are less likely to report the assault to authorities. It it worth noting that drug use is a common theme in the sexual assault allegations against Mr. Cosby, and Mr. Cosby himself admitted supplying drugs on numerous ocassions. In fact, Mr. Cosby illegally obtained a prescription for Quaaludes from a gynecologist who later lost his medical license!

There are additional reasons why victims under-report acquaintance rape, ranging from feelings of shame, self-blame, fear of not being believed, wanting to avoid controversy in social or familial circles, to not wanting to get their acquaintance in trouble. Mr. Cosby was famous and powerful. He enjoyed a then untarnished reputation. It is easy to understand why his alleged victims would be fearful their stories would not be believed. If you doubt the backlash a victim might have encountered when Mr. Cosby was at the height of his popularity, just check your social media timeline and read the vile comments directed toward his accusers.

“All those women are motivated by money.”

There is no longer a feasible path for an alleged victim to receive compensation from Mr. Cosby. Most of the alleged sexual assaults fall outside the statutes of limitations for filing a civil lawsuit. As of November 2015, only eight related civil lawsuits were active against Mr. Cosby, and some of those are the result of Mr. Cosby’s alleged libelous statements made against his accusers, and not related to alleged sexual assaults. Most of his accusers came forward long after the statute of limitations for a civil suit passed.

Someone suggested there are large sums of money to be made from potential book deals. Books are a dying medium, and the days of the large advance for writing a book are over unless you are a very high profile person such as Hillary Clinton. Others suggested there was money to be made from paid interviews. No one is offering big dollars to interview an alleged victim of an aging comedian whose criminal trial is now barely a headline. Simply put, there exists little to no monetary gain for Mr. Cosby’s accusers. Ironically, if financial reward was truly the motivation of his accusers, the first place an alleged victim would go is to the hospital and/or the police because civil lawsuits require evidence to be successful.

“They knew what they were there for.” “Who takes pills from someone?”

A woman’s decision to ingest recreational drugs and/or consume alcohol is not consent for sex. The law is unambiguous on this point. An incapacitated woman cannot consent to sex. The desire to socialize with someone famous and powerful is also not consent for sex. As for accepting pills from Mr. Cosby? There once existed a casual pill culture very much as common as our marijuana culture of today. “Taking pills from someone” then was not unlike accepting a marijuana “blunt” from someone now.

“Why are they reporting these assaults now? Why are they all coming out of the woodwork?”

This is a classic pattern seen in serial abuse cases. As already illustrated, there are many reasons a victim may not report sexual assault initially. When a victim does finally muster the courage to come forward, other victims feel safer to report their allegations. We have seen this pattern with other serial abuse cases like those against the Catholic Church priesthood, and more recently with the Penn State Sandusky case. This is consistent with the typical pattern of fear associated with serial abuse cases, and not a pattern associated with the pursuit of profit, or evidence of false allegations. False allegations fueled by a desire for profit are usually reported timely.

I do not intend to imply that every single person who ever came forward in a serial abuse case was being truthful, or that no one has ever been motivated by financial reward, but statistics suggest the frequency of false allegations is not high. According to a review of the available research, the prevalence of false sexual assault reports is only between 2 percent and 10 percent. If we do the math, and err generously in Mr. Cosby’s favor, perhaps ten of his accusers are being untruthful according to the statistics.

Now I challenge those of you who would defend Mr. Cosby – do you really think more than 100 alleged victims are all lying? As the old saying goes, if you do, I have a bridge to sell you!


Steven J. Dana is the Founder & Chief Executive Officer of PROTECTION FROM ABUSE Victim Services. Mr. Dana is a licensed Personal Protection Specialist, Security Consultant, and NACP credentialed Domestic Violence Intervention Specialist.