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Michael Abrahams: ‘The Cosby Show’ and the psychology of rape

Published:Monday | July 13, 2015 | 7:05 PMMichael Abrahams
Michael Abrahams
Bill Cosby
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I believe Bill Cosby's accusers. At least, most of them. Even if some may have lied or embellished their stories, it is highly unlikely that more than 40 women would have just concocted sordid tales to bring him down.

Many of these women do not know other alleged victims and were unaware of the other accusations that were made. And most were definitely unaware of his admission, during a deposition in a civil trial in 2005, that he obtained Quaaludes, psychoactive drugs, with the intention of giving them to young girls that he wanted to have sex with. Quaaludes were the same drugs that director Roman Polanski was accused of giving a 13-year-old before raping her in the late 1970s.

One of Cosby's accusers, Barbara Bowman, who was a teenage aspiring actress at the time of the alleged incidents, has been telling her story for 30 years. When she initially approached a lawyer for help in 1987, according to her, "He laughed me out of the office. He said I was delusional, ridiculous, making these stories up. No one believed me."

However, in 2004, another woman, Andrea Constand, filed a lawsuit against Cosby for drugging and raping her. This went public, and an out-of-court settlement was reached. It was during this case that Cosby's admission about obtaining Quaaludes was made. He also admitted to giving Constand Benadryl, a drug known to cause drowsiness.

But dozens of other women have also accused Cosby of inappropriate touching, forced hand jobs, attempted rape, and drugging and actually raping them, with the incidents taking place in dressing rooms, hotel rooms and private residences, over a period spanning three decades.

Still, there are some among us who remain sceptical, asking why it took so long for some of these women to come forward. The fact is that many victims of sexual crimes do not initially report their incidents for a multitude of reasons. Many are embarrassed, afraid, feel guilt or have little confidence that they will receive justice. As a matter of fact, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), 68 per cent of sexual assaults are not reported to police, and 98 per cent of rapists will walk free, at least in the United States of America.

The low conviction rates are a further deterrent to victims of assault. Many fear that they will have to rehash their gruesome stories in court, only to be judged by the prosecution, and sometimes the public, and become victims all over again, enduring what may feel like further assaults, this time on their character, as people feed into the many myths surrounding rape.

Questions such as "What was she wearing?", "Why did she go there?", "Why would he rape her when he can get any woman he wants?" and statements like "She must have wanted it" and "She is not even that attractive" are not only asinine, and insensitive, but inflict further trauma on the victims of these heinous crimes.

There is obviously a sexual component to rape, but it is more about power and control. One does not have to be attractive or put oneself into a particular situation to get raped. The very young, the elderly, the physically and mentally challenged, the homeless and emaciated have all been victims. And this type of crime is not gender specific either, because men and boys get sexually assaulted, too. Between 1995 and 2010, nine per cent of rape and sexual assault victims in the USA were male.

When one adds the celebrity component, the likelihood of reporting, and hence convictions, is probably even lower.

Bill Cosby is an American icon. He is very talented, popular, successful, wealthy and powerful, capable of assembling a formidable legal team likely to put up a successful fight against an unknown young woman with limited resources. And when popular male celebrities are accused of rape, there is a tendency for their fans and other members of the public to vilify the accusers and defend the accused. We saw this with Mike Tyson, and we now see it with Cosby.

Even in Jamaica, when Jah Cure gained popularity while serving time for rape, the incident reportedly involving a firearm, many people were calling for him to be freed. The fact is that many of us see these men on screens and hear them on the radio or through sound systems, but know very little about their character or what they are capable of.

Rape accused, like persons fingered for other crimes, are innocent until proven guilty. Rushing to judge them is unjust, as false accusations have occurred, such as with the notorious Tawana Brawley case in 1987-1988. But this occurs infrequently, with the rate of false reports reported to be under 10 per cent.

Similarly, it's unfair to immediately dismiss claims of assault by victims, who are predominantly female. This tendency, displayed by both men and women, illustrates a very misogynistic and patriarchal attitude that discourages victims from reporting crimes committed against them, and unfortunately and ironically, is likely to contribute to the unsatisfactory statistics remaining in the ranges that they now exist.

So yes, I believe that Bill Cosby is a rapist. I may be wrong, but I doubt it. And it hurts. It hurts because for most of my life I have looked up to, respected and admired this man, not only for his talent, but for being a shining example in the African American community, and it is painful to see what is unfolding.

But I hurt more for those who may have been victims of his unwelcome advances and assaults. Bill Cosby spent much time telling black American men to be responsible and to pull up their trousers. Too bad that he apparently did not follow his own advice.

Michael Abrahams is a gynaecologist and obstetrician, comedian and poet. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and michabe_1999@hotmail.com, or tweet @mikeyabrahams.