Many of us grew up watching the Cosby Show. From 1984 to 1992, Mr. Huxtable’s loving smile and family friendly humor was a staple in living rooms across the country. Now, 24 years later, fans and fellow comedians are coming to terms with a character they love played by a man many now despise.
Several months ago, when Cosby’s survivor count was at 33, before another 20 more women stepped forward from the shadows; comedian, executive producer and director, Judd Apatow addressed the issue on fellow comedian Marc Maron’s podcast. “The reason to say, ‘Bill Cosby is a terrible man and I believe these women is so women aren’t hiding in their homes in shame when people commit violent crimes against them” Apatow said. You can listen to the full interview here, and I highly recommend you do.
I listened to the interview again in the wake of Cosby’s recent arrest and was left with feelings of gratitude. It’s probably not the emotion most people would expect to feel after listening to this, but I did. I was grateful to hear someone use their platform for good. Grateful to hear someone so respected in the entertainment industry stand up for not just Cosby’s victims, but for victims of sexual crimes across the country. I was grateful to hear someone confront victim blaming and negative rhetoric on a national stage. Grateful our cause has an ally in Apatow.
In the interview, apatow hits the nail on the head when he says, “I think when celebrities commit heinous crimes, people don’t want to let go of their work and their life long relationship with them” he said. “If we admit that Cosby did this, we’re not allowed to enjoy everything that made us so happy. “
Bull’s eye. And as a society, we tend to do this with all rapists, not just celebrities. Nearly 90% of the time, rapists are someone known to the victim. That means these are the Bill Cosbys, Sunday school teachers, next door neighbors, star athletes, honor students and student body class presidents. Apatow goes on to say, “The people who don’t want to believe [the victims], it’s for the same reason they don’t want to believe Michael Jackson ever did anything with kids. They just love Thriller and they don’t want to give it up.”
Speaking from my own experience as a rape survivor, my attacker was a likeable guy. You could find him most Sunday mornings at the First Baptist Church of Tuscaloosa with his family. I could imagine it would be difficult for his congregational peers to accept the reality of the crime he committed against me. While many of Cosby’s victims will sadly never receive the justice they deserve, if nothing more, I hope his arrest helps debunk the myth of what and who the “average” rapist is.
So how do we address this issue? How do we make sense of it in our own lives? How do we, as a society, come to terms with the fact that an overwhelming majority of rapists are not masked madmen hiding in a back ally. It’s because rapists are otherwise normal members of society that they can become repeat offenders. As a 2002 study by David Lisak and Paul Miller highlights, rape victims are common, but rapists are not.
The researchers interviewed college men about their sexual histories and found that only about 6 percent of the men surveyed had attempted or successfully raped someone. While some of them only tried once, most of the rapists were repeat offenders, with each committing rape an average of 6 times before to graduating. These perpetrators are relying on a victim’s silence to allow them to keep going on dates and out to bars and parties where they can continue to commit rape. Over. And. Over. And. Over. Again.
If we could differentiate the contrasting realities of who a rapist is and the person they appear to be, what would that change? Would more jurors convict rapists? Not allowing 97 of 100 to walk free of punishment? What if after hearing a victim speak out about an otherwise likeable person, we learned to say, “Wow. Joe Blow was always really nice to me. I’m really surprised by that” instead of immediately assuming a “nice guy” isn’t capable of committing such an act and she must be lying.
In light of Cosby’s arrest, many reporters have asked us for a comment. Here’s where we stand.
We know rape happens, and we know it unfortunately happens a lot. 1 in 4 women will become a victim in her lifetime. We know there are not a lot of rapists out there, but those who are almost always repeat offenders. We know that rape is no more falsely reported than any other crime and we know that the typical rapist is someone who usually flies under the radar. So as far as the Partnership is concerned, when a victim tells us they’ve been raped- we believe them. Period. Our opinion does not change based on who the attacker is. Our services and support extends to ALL people who come to us in crisis. We will serve survivors of sexual violence, confidentially-- regardless of their sex, ethnicity, age, immigration status or “story.” We will not turn you away. We do not doubt a victim’s story, nor raise questions about the reality of their trauma. We are not a court of law. We are a nonprofit organization with a mission to serve, support and aid in the healing of anyone who comes to us and says they have been raped. And when we educate those around us to do the same- to take pause before blaming a victim- we will see a future with more rapists behind bars. And that’s exactly what it will take to achieve a future free of sexual violence. We need all people- not just survivors- to take a stand. People who are ready and willing to educate judges, jurors, attorneys, police officers and the general public about the realities rape and rapists. In short, we need more unapologetic Judds.