Two things happened last month that seemed unrelated. Another woman came forward with details of sexual assault by Bill Cosby. And the University of Virginia suspended all of its fraternities, citing a Rolling Stone article about sexual assault.
If I could have invested in one commodity, it would be to buy up all the soon-to-be-deleted shots of Bill Cosby grimacing. Those photos now depict the pained face of the man who made us smile in the 80s. Now we seem to have nothing else of Cosby. A person few of us know who is now being accused of the same alleged crime by a new person every day. And nothing will be proven. Nothing can be proved. DNA evidence? Didn’t exist when the alleged crimes went down.
Victims fear being ostracized socially more than they fear being attacked again.
For clarity, we are referring to alleged crimes and not an ongoing investigation. No charges have been filed. Indeed, we are discussing this matter in the first place because another very fantastic comic called Cosby out on it. So let’s remove the proper names and innuendo and discuss, in short, how and why this crime happens to young women.
Criminal defense attorneys love doing sexual assault cases. Unlike other criminal matters, no amount of intent or physical evidence can compare to a simple offensive (sorry) maneuver. It’s the “nut or slut” defense: Prove a girl was in a short skirt or “asking for it” and even with DNA evidence your client can get off.
Legally, it gets worse: how does the legal paper trail or texts and email exchanges in a rape case differ from a bad date? But by bringing up the Cosby charges now, when all the women are past middle age, they can go forward being believed — even though they have no physical evidence.
The opposite problem is happening on college campuses. Victims fear being ostracized socially more than they fear being attacked again. The Rolling Stone story details the all-names-changed story of Jackie, who was lured to a frat party at UVA’s Phi Kappa Psi house. Someone gave her a cup of spiked punch, which she poured out on the floor when no one was watching, not wanting to look “like a goody goody.”
She was brought to a darkened bedroom upstairs. The rest of the story—and what the seven men and two spectators did to her—is enough to turn any man into a vigilante army. Approximately seven guys sank into her, cheering each other on. She left the party alone, “face beaten, dress spattered with blood.”
It didn’t get better when she went to her friends for help:
“We have to get her to the hospital,” Randall said. Their other two friends, however, weren’t convinced. “Is that such a good idea?” she recalls Cindy asking. “Her reputation will be shot for the next four years.”
It’s strikingly similar to the details in this Washington Post story about Cosby’s accusers:
The allegations are strung together by perceptible patterns that appear and reappear with remarkable consistency: Mostly young, white women without family nearby; drugs offered as palliatives; resistance and pursuit; accusers worrying that no one would believe them; lifelong trauma.
The pattern that emerges between the 16 women who accuse the comedian of sexual assault and the ongoing epidemic of college campuses is simple: Men with control misusing their power over younger women who fear being ostracized. Each of Cosby’s accusers allege that the events took place only after they came to him looking for help. Some were models auditioning. Another was a university administrator looking for advice from its most valued trustee.
There is a direct line between the way women are put down by catcalls in the streets and by university sexual assault panels.
So what happens when so much time has passed since the alleged crimes? Unfortunately, it’s another UVA student. In 1984 Liz Securro was given a drink at a frat party. Her memory went spotty from there, but she has the memory of a stranger raping her and then waking up and checking the mail to discover she was in the room of Will Beebe.
“I went to the dean covered in scabs and with broken ribs,” she remembers. “And he said, ‘Do you think it was just regrettable sex?'” It never got reported.
But then, 21 years later, the story took an unexpected twist:
Beebe wrote Seccuro a letter, saying he wanted to make amends as part of his 12-step program. Seccuro took the correspondence to Charlottesville police. And in the midst of the 2006 prosecution that followed, where Beebe would eventually plead guilty to aggravated sexual battery, investigators made a startling discovery: That while at Phi Psi that night, Seccuro had been assaulted not by one man, but by three.
These crimes occur when the women are isolated. They are encouraged not to speak out. But when they do they discover they are not the only one. It leaves them with the twin regrets: One for it happening and another for not speaking out before it happened again to someone else.
But note the way the women in both the Cosby cases and the Liz Securro were treated in middle age, versus the way Securro was treated in college.
And it’s not flattering. But notice that the “nut or slut” response isn’t where it goes. We talked about this in our catcalling piece. Too many young men will say and do things to younger women that they wouldn’t say to older women because they fail to treat young women as people. There is a direct line between the way women are put down by catcalls in the streets and by university sexual assault panels.
To go out as far on a limb as possible: What would police and administrators say if year after year 40-year-old women came forward saying they were assaulted by 20-year-old UVA students? Would it go unreported? Would the women be asked if it was just a “regrettable sex?”
Schools will continue to be complicit in it because they save face and lawsuits by trading on the victim’s silence.The saddest part is that the blame still falls on the victim, specifically the young girl many of them used to be. The saddest part is how the women later internalize this. Behold a quote from Jackie, which could echo through each case mentioned:
“Everything bad in my life now is built around that one bad decision that I made,” she says. “All because I went to that stupid party.”
Even if tomorrow the allegations against Cosby are lifted, we can all apologize and be glad we had a chance to say this out in the open: Men who are not taught how to treat women with respect will go on acting like this.