“Why didn’t she say anything earlier?”
After over a decade of countless attacks, Bill Cosby is finally being brought to trial to account for his horrific actions. But why did it take so long, some wonder. Why didn’t any of the women speak out earlier? Why have we only heard about this now? In order to fully understand what you hear on the news, you need to fully understand rape.
Rape is the most complex, unique crime in the world.
No other crime makes the victim question whether the crime actually happened.
No other crime makes the victim feel shameful of their own attack.
No other crime probes and prods the victim, unearthing everything dirty and irrelevant detail about the victim’s life in order to say, well hey, they asked for this crime.
No other crime leaves deep-seated, hidden emotional scars but relatively light financial and physical ones.
No other crime accuses the victim just as much as the criminal; “what were you wearing during this robbery? Did you have a drink before or during your identity theft? Are you sure you didn’t do anything to ask for your kidnapping?” — these words will never be spoken in a court of law, but when you replace the crimes with rape, it happens at nearly every trial.
Women were taught early that rape is a gray area. Taught by the media, by men, by politicians. We are taught that falsely or mistakenly accusing someone of rape is as heinous as rape itself. We are taught that rape can be incited, that if you dress a certain way or walk in that shady neighborhood, rape might happen to you. Rape might be an effect and you might be the cause.
Rape is like no other crime; you battle with whether you want to speak up or just keep living your life with this horrible dark secret and keep it to yourself. Most people wouldn’t keep quiet if their home has been ransacked. Yet women stay quiet all the time when their bodies have been ransacked.
Because there are 2 things that can never be undone: one is rape, the other is speaking out. Rape has already happened. Now do we really want to say anything? Do we want to put ourselves through that, when it seems so much easier to just keep it a secret? Do we want to hire a lawyer, suffer through an excruciating public trial, confront people who have hurt us even though they are our acquaintances, our coworkers, our classmates? Do we want to be publicly shamed, to be victimized repeatedly without consent (raping our minds and reputations)?
You can never undo the pain of rape, but you can choose not to embark on the pain of confrontation.
It seemed so easy to just keep quiet.
I remember the most scared I’ve ever been was standing outside of my best friend’s apartment door at 5am, frantically ringing the doorbell and calling her phone. I must have called at least 60 times. A few strangers stopped by to ask if everything was alright. Shaking and sobbing, I said yes, please leave me alone. I didn’t trust them. They, being men, could hurt me too.
Earlier that night, I woke up on a friend’s bed, groggy and drunk. Something was immediately wrong. We’d never hooked up before. And his fingers were digging at me, in me. I made noises and pushed him away, still drunk out of my mind. I distinctly remember, very very clearly, saying, “Stop, stop” and pushing his arms away. I also very clearly remembering him saying, “Shut up.”
He climbed on top of me at one point and, luckily, was too drunk to penetrate. I was never raped but assaulted.
Finally, after an indeterminable but seemingly immense amount of time of pushing and fingering and clawing, he seemed to have fallen asleep. I didn’t get up. I was too scared. I was scared that if I made any movement he would be reinvigorated and try again to have sex with me. Finally I mustered up the courage to jump up from the bed, sprint across the room, grab my belongings and leave.
I had called some friends at 5am to try to get someone to let me into their apartments (I was only visiting NYC at the time and didn’t have my own place). The next morning I said the word rape and my friends (female included) said, “Whoa whoa, are you sure? You can’t just throw that word around.”
Sure, I don’t want to falsely accuse or alarm anyone. But I remember the annoyance and anger I felt that people were telling me to be careful about talking about my own victimization.
Word got around to him and he apologized to me. Apparently he had blacked out and didn’t realize any of that had happened. Not an excuse… not everyone gets drunk and proceeds to sexually assault people. And that’s the scariest part — that a person you knew had it in himself to hurt you, had the capability of sexually assaulting you and had definitely wanted to (even in his subconscious mind). It’s scary to think anyone you know could be capable of that, without even being in full control.
He seemed genuinely apologetic. I didn’t want to ruffle any feathers. I knew I shouldn’t keep telling people. Why not? Maybe it was the shame. It was the embarrassment of letting people know I was drunk enough to get in bed with our friend. A guy we all know and like.
I can understand completely why women don’t say anything after rape. The path of least resistance is to keep quiet and go on with your life. You can hide the emotional scars and if you’re lucky, the physical ones too. You usually don’t lose much financially either, unless you were hurt badly. Basically your life is, in a way, kind of the same except that it’s not, and it will never be.
There is something especially sensitive about being hurt by someone you know, someone in your social network and who others know and respect. The path of accusation wouldn’t just tear you and him apart; it would tear apart everyone you know. The collateral damage would be boundless.
Now imagine if your attacker was a celebrity. A celebrity everyone liked. And looked up to by a whole racial community. A celebrity that embodied a loving paternal protector. Any time these things make it to the news and people ask why she didn’t say anything, I cringe.
The ignorance is a crime in itself. It’s a crime fueled by lack of empathy and understanding. Even women who have never been sexually assaulted don’t completely understand. They say to me, “If someone ever did that to me, I’d hunt him down and kill him! I’d definitely take him to trial to account for what he’s done and prevent him from hurting another girl! Women need to speak up!”
It’s not that easy and it’s not that simple. There are no easy answers. I’d like to tell you to speak up and put your attackers in jail, but I didn’t really want to do anything about what happened to me. It would be hypocritical but I do want to let you know that I, of all people, understand you. I understand what you’ve been through, why you’re scared, why you might never say a thing. I understand your frustration; it will never be alright but it will get better. And don’t let people who don’t understand your pain push you around with ignorant questions.