Saturday, December 20, 2014

Dear Friends Still Defending Bill Cosby At All Cost

Dear Friend:

I apologize for my long response about allegations against Bill Cosby. To help you decide whether you'll read my entire thought process, you should know that this letter is divided into three parts. The first part laments the disillusionment that comes with considering these allegations against him and shares the background of what I know about Bill Cosby having seen him on TV since the 1960s, read about him in print, and heard about him in the news over the last five decades. The second part (here) tells you what I think about the accusations and why I've drawn the conclusions I've drawn that do not favor him. The third part questions societal beliefs about women.

I've written so much on this topic because I would like to stop repeating myself to people who insist that the accusations against Cosby are ridiculous because he's never been charged with a crime, and it's unfair to think he may have done anything wrong. "There's been no trial and everyone's innocent until proven guilty," they say, "So, I wish you all would shut up about Dr. Cosby (he has a Ed.D.) until a jury hears the case and a judge makes a decision."

They continue along this vein even when others respond, "But the statute of limitations has run out for both civil and criminal charges. Bill Cosby will not face a jury or judge."

Before I go further, please let me express my sympathy for you and other Americans, including me. We are all rightfully disturbed and saddened to hear of these horrible accusations against a beloved entertainer. I know some of you have concerns about Cosby's legacy. Some of you may consider yourself to be not necessarily a fan of Cosby just a "warrior for justice" who will not "rush to judgment." You may even call yourself "neutral" but feel compelled to chime in nonetheless because you have a friend who was falsely accused of rape and all this Cosby talk reminds you of that painful period. So, I'm sympathize with any agony and discomfort you've experienced in discussing Cosby.

I see as well that many of you, some dear friends, too, feel personally wounded by this current string of accusations. His character Dr. Cliff Huxtable was America's ideal dad, after all. In many ways, so was Cosby himself between his hilarious comedy routines about fatherhood (I own some of his DVDs) and those warm commercials for Jell-O Pudding he did with adorable, giggling children. So, I understand that some of you sense yourselves becoming disillusioned thinking about the possibility of his guilt and perhaps virulently angry at "the media" and his accusers. You refuse to think the man you think you know may have done anything so horrible. It feels better, perhaps, to think that these stories are just another plot to bring down a "good Black man."

You find also that you fume especially at people like me who refuse to call the women liars. I get that. It seems to you that we are crucifying him and maligning him openly. I sort of feel that way, too, sometimes, especially when I see that Gloria Allred, the ambulance chaser, with all her theatrics has inserted herself into this scandal. 

But whatever you feel about Cosby today whatever you may think of his accusers, by now we all should know that from here on, no matter what is said or believed, proven or not proven about Bill Cosby, we're experiencing an American tragedy and journeying through the stages of grief. We are perplexed. We feel betrayed when we hear about Dr. Cosby and all these women. 

For most of my life I've been a fan of Bill Cosby, but I consider myself to be more objective about him than some fans. Cosby the man is separate from Cosby the entertainer in my mind. Cosby the man is a philanthropist and appears to want to do some good in this world, but as a man he is also an imperfect being exhibiting signs of duplicity.

So, I still admire Cosby's work as a comedian, actor, director, and producer. I still appreciate how he worked his way to a level of power in the entertainment industry that few black men ever achieve and how he's managed his money.

I also respect his hard work in earning a doctorate while also working as a comedian and actor and that he's taught in prisons, and I'm old enough to remember his accomplishments from pre-Cosby Show days. Not too shabby. However, I did not care much for his Silver Throat: Bill Cosby Sings album that was part of my family's record collection. By the time his pudding days rolled around, it seemed he could do no wrong. My grandmother and my mother, both dead now, would express how proud they were of Cosby because represented black peoplewell. Halcyon days became halcyon decades for Bill.

As we know, I and my family are not anomalies. Not only have many black people loved this man, but people of all ethnic groups. By 1981 advertising executives were saying Cosby was so marketable that he  "transcended" being black. And he donated so much money to good causes. What was there not to like?

When his son Ennis died, I was as mournful and angry as if Bill Cosby were a personal friend. I was even annoyed when news broke that Autumn Jackson had tried to blackmail him, saying he was her biological father. Married and more naive in my thirties than I am now, I did not want to believe Bill could be unfaithful to his beautiful, loving wife Camille. Still, I did not ignore the revelation that although Cosby denied being Jackson's father, he had admitted to having an affair with her mother and to "providing regular financial support" for both of them.

I was naive but not that naive.

Either Cosby was the nicest man in the world, kinder than some husbands are to ex-wives and the acknowledged mothers of their children, or he was Jackson's father. But if he were her father, then he also had a stern side, was a man with titanium will and the cool temperament to send his flesh and blood to jail.

Maybe he really never believed he was her father, but was only, as he told her, "a father figure" to her. Whatever the case, that scandal helped me put Bill's image in perspective and remember the other Bill I grew up seeing. He was not simply Dr. Huxtable Bill and "the man behind Fat Albert" Bill and the Bill so great with children Bill or Uptown Saturday Night Bill, but also that cool, worldly cat closer to the the Bill of his  I Spy character Alexander Scott, a "good" character, but still one who could pretend to be somebody else, an affable guy but nobody's daddy.

And I remembered seeing Bill in his early habitat, too, being himself, not a television or movie character. That Bill was a young man who, despite being married, felt comfortable living it up with Hugh Hefner and the Bunnies at the Playboy Mansion. Bill Cosby was human. Why should I assume he would not cheat on his wife? 

 And there was his infamous "pound cake speech," I was not enamored of it, but neither was I angry about it as some in black academia and politics were. I was neutral. I was equally neutral about him cheating on his wife because he's not my husband, he's hers. 

I cannot, however, be neutral about these rape accusations

The social media discussions about these allegations disturb me. I discern that often they're not really about Bill as much as they are about people's readiness to believe most women will lie about rape when it suits them. About that readiness to believe the worst about women in general, I am not neutral.

The Accusations

If you know me, then you know I am not a lawyer, and most likely, neither are you. Nonetheless, I do know a little something about how arguments are made in rape cases because I'm old enough to have read about too many cases of rape and geeky enough to read court transcripts and legal case studies. There's nothing special about understanding a court transcript or a case study. Any good reader who cares to read one and research concepts she doesn't recognize can probably understand one.

But since I have read case studies, I admit I've been a bit annoyed with people who jump into Facebook conversations and Twitter streams only to say things like "Stop talking as though he's guilty. He hasn't been charged with anything or had a fair trial." And "All I have to say is there's no evidence!" Some of these people seem to be on the look out for groups discussing Cosby unfavorably because they appear whenever women and men who are sympathetic to victims of rape are discussing the Cosby allegations. They pop up and try to shame us for drawing conclusions based on what we know.

After the evidence question, another challenge's lobbed: "If this happened, then why did these women wait so long to come forward." A number of experts have addressed that issue in the past and some rape/molestation victims have spoken up on this topic, too, so I don't need to say more here.

What I most want to discuss is that it's not unreasonable to think the allegations against Bill Cosby are credible. In fact, it's more reasonable at this point to think Cosby did do something horrible to at least some of these women than to assume he didn't do anything sexually abusive at all. It's more reasonable to discuss what these women coming forward after so many years says about our culture, the leeway given to powerful men, and how often we silence women than it is to tell people to shut up about it all because he's never been charged with a crime.

First, just because some of these accusations are old and the cases cannot go to court, it's inaccurate to say "there is no evidence.” Nor should we assume that physical evidence, such as proof that the women had been drugged or had Bill's DNA inside them, would be given that much weight in a trial. Forensic evidence in many rape trials is rarely what causes a jury to hand down a guilty verdict, especially if the victim was not beaten or tied up. No matter what anecdotes men's rights groups promote, juries and judges don't automatically believe women.

Second, and I'm sure some of you have heard this already, most women do not lie about rape or sexual assault. For the sake of argument here, I'll toss out the old, often-quoted figure that only two percent (2%) of women falsely accuse men of rape and go instead with the more recent figure of ten percent (10%) based on police statistics that ten percent of rape accusations are "unfounded" (assuming that the police actually investigated the complaints they've deemed unfounded and assuming that some of the rapes labeled as "unfounded" allegations are not cases in which the women were bullied into withdrawing the complaint).

However, in terms of probability, given that at least twenty women have accused Cosby of rape or attempted rape at this point, do the new rape statistics help his defense much? If 90 percent (90%) of women's rape accusations prove to be true and we apply that probability to the number of women who've alleged Cosby drugged them and raped or tried to rape them, then the new figure suggests that 18 of the women in this case are probably telling the truth about Cosby.

But let's get back to evidence. If this case could go to trial, and the judge and jury were not biased toward either party, Cosby or the group of women accusing him, this case would boil down to credibility of the witnesses, not forensic evidence, and here’s why: In rape cases, even when a rape kit is used and there is forensic evidence of intercourse, if the victim was willingly intoxicated or drugged without permission, the jury decides what's true and not true based on which witness is more credible, the defendant or the plaintiff.

In cases where the victim is drugged, evidence of intercourse is often not enough because the rapist intentionally may not have caused internal or external injury to the victim's body. In other words, there is often not the kind of bruising of the vaginal wall one would see in cases that people call “brutal rape.” Brutal rape here refers to a rape during which the woman is awake, can fight back, and ends up battered and bruised. A deeply drugged, unconscious body is a limp body offering no resistance. There's no need to subdue the victim by pummeling her. But to be clear, rape via drugging or rape via brute force is still rape. In both cases, the woman has not consented to have sex with the rapist.

In most rape cases, but especially in cases where the victim’s been drugged, the defendant’s attorney argues that the sex was consensual. He accuses the woman of being confused and of taking the drugs willingly. He argues the woman is either mistaken or lying. And he may call in witnesses who did not witness the rape but who will accuse the victim of having a habit of drinking too much or doing drugs.

So, if it’s just a “he-said/she-said” case of one says “consensual” and the other says “not consensual,” the defendant is likely to be found not guilty due to “reasonable doubt,” especially if the defendant has no criminal record or no history of aggressive sexual misconduct and is also wealthy with social capital.

If the accuser is not wealthy and not an “upstanding citizen of the community,” his social capital goes down a little, and it becomes more likely that the female victim will be heard and possibly viewed as credible right up until the defense attempts to muddy her reputation.

Whether the defendant has high social capital or not, if other women also come forward who do not know each other and have no reason to lie and who swear under oath to tell the truth, and if there’s no evidence of collusion between witnesses, then the male defendant’s credibility drops and the credibility of the plaintiff rises because multiple people have similar horrible stories about the defendant. If the group of other victims includes women of status who stand to lose more by becoming involved with the case than they would by remaining silent, then that’s a double strike for the defendant. None of this, however, assures that the defendant will be found guilty.

Therefore, given that most rape cases are about credibility of the victim or victims vs. credibility of the defendant, whether there is any forensic evidence in the Cosby case is moot.

If his case went to trial, we would still be left with a “he said/she said,," one powerful, wealthy man disputes the statements of a group of less powerful women. But in such a case, the group of victims willing to come forward is the evidence. Something happened and whatever it was, it wasn't good for the women willing to testify.

So, Cosby’s case looks like this to people who have been paying attention to this scandal as well as the development of Cosby's career and image over the years.

  1. The number of women who’ve said he raped them by first drugging them establishes a pattern of sexual behavior for him. Drugging women, even women with whom he has had consensual sex before, is his M.O., his habit. Since Cosby hasn't been charged with a crime before, establishing his habit as other-acts evidence would probably carry more weight in Civil Court, however, than it would in Criminal Court.
  2. The women who have come forward who say he drugged them but did not rape them because they managed to get away further establishes an M.O. and boosts the credibility of the witnesses who say he raped them.
  3. A former NBC employee has come forward and said Cosby had a stream of women in and out of his dressing room, some of whom he paidoff, begins to whittle down his image as a faithful, family man. There are receipts that back up this claim. If counsel opposing Cosby could get this evidence admitted, a jury might stop seeing him as the ideal father image.
  4. Cosby's history of hanging out with Hugh Hefner and the Playboy bunnies while married would also cause an objective observer to wonder whether he’s as squeaky-clean as he appears to be. If nothing else, it would remind them that Bill Cosby is a sexual animal and not a saintly being in the puritanical sense. But since rape is not about sexual desire but power and the desire to control, it's also worth noting that Bill Cosby likes to be very much in control. When he has power, he exercises it.
  5. Other history that strikes at his credibility is the case previously mentioned in which he made sure the woman who claimed he was her father and blackmailed him went to jail for blackmailing him. That incident establishes how Cosby reacts when he thinks he’s got a strong case to say someone is lying or trying to extort him. He uses the law to fight back.
  6. Cosby’s settlement with Andrea Constand in 2005, a woman who accused him of drugging and then raping her weighs heavily against him. His argument was that the sex was consensual, and yet he settled with her, which prevented the case from going before a jury raises eyebrows. It was to his benefit to squash the case because 13 other women had lined up to testify that he did the same to them. His decision to settle rather than use the law to fight back, however, still seems odd given how he handled the blackmail case. And just as in the blackmail case, in which it came out he had been supporting the woman and her mother for years, he admitted to nothing but still paid someone off. 
  7. The women telling these stories come from different class and ethnic backgrounds. Some are white, some are black, some are in the entertainment industry, and some are not. Constand was a college administrator, for instance. Most don't know each other. Some of the women are in their 60s and 70s now but no one, not even Cosby's attorney, disputes that many of them spent some time with Cosby. He is counter-suing one of the women though, and his lawyer claims his client doesn't even know another one, but that woman is now suing Bill for defamation. Also,since it's common knowledge now that at least 20 women have accused Cosby of either drugging and raping them or drugging and trying to rape them, or drugging and otherwise molesting them, then that’s a lot of women to disbelieve. As Ta-nehisi Coates suggests, a grand conspiracy theory that these women decided to lie about Cosby for some reason requires magical thinking. 
  8. It's relevant that some of the women who’ve accused Cosby were young and witless when Cosby was older and powerful. It's not odd that they remained silent. Their decision not to come forward at that time is consistent with the thinking of many rape victims assaulted by men with clout. Today many of his accusers are more confident with successful careers of their own. Green, for example, now 66, is an attorney. When they heard the stories of other women that mirrored their own, they felt more confident about telling their own stories. 
  9. While there are cases where it’s been shown that one woman is lying about rape for whatever reason, these cases have one woman lying about one man or group of men, not a large group of women lying about one man. This is also the reason the recent Rolling Stone debacle with the University of Virginia case is not an appropriate comparison to the Cosby situation. Aside from some people assuming she lied about the rape itself, she is only one woman accusing a group of men. 
  10. It’s reasonable to believe that some of the women in the group may be piling on (meaning they are not telling the truth or are misrepresenting what happened), but it’s unreasonable to believe that all of the women are lying. Even if we accepted the nonsensical assertion that half of all women lie about rape (which is of course not true), we’d still be left with its inverse: half of rape victims tell the truth. Should Bill still be excused?
Yes, we’re not God or gods, and therefore those of us who doubt Cosby's innocence cannot say for a fact that he's committed any crime, but as reasonable people, may we not conclude that it’s highly probable that he did at least some of the things he’s been accused of to some of the women who've accused him. We do nothing wrong when we draw such conclusions. And we do nothing wrong when denounce rape. We’re not a mob going after Bill Cosby with Molotov cocktails and pitchforks. We’re just people who after some thought think some of these allegations are true. Our position is rational.

What Does Not Believing the Women Say About Us?

To say that we are being unfair because "he's not been tried in a court of law" is to argue that truth can only be established in the American judicial system and that it is somehow illogical, impolite, and monstrous to believe someone is guilty who has not gone to trial. But trials don't necessarily confirm guilt or innocence. Trials only establish that a jury has found someone culpable or not culpable under the law.

Further, to rationalize that we can't discern anything about the Cosby case unless there is first a trial with a jury and judge to tell us their conclusions, we must also adopt a belief that judges and juries always find correctly. We'd have to ignore cases in which people have gone to trial and were acquitted, but later admitted to the crime or are released and commit the same crime again. We'd have to ignore as well all the cases of late that have shown that the person convicted in fact did not commit the crime for which he was found guilty. The system is not perfect.

How much of this resistance to believing these women indicates an alarming number of Americans believe that most women lie about rape for money, attention, or revenge? Or are those who support Bill Cosby at all cost willing to say that he, and maybe men in general accused of rape, should not face consequences, even minor consequences such as the loss of some fans and deals? Are they saying rape is no big deal when weighed against a man's life's work?

And of course, there are those who are more troubled over Cosby's legacy shrinking than they are about that he may be a rapist who will never be held accountable for his deeds. I sort of get that from the perspective that many people feel they know Cosby and not these women. But do we really know Cosby or do we know the public image Cosby has crafted for himself? In any case, this nation has a short memory when it comes to powerful men who abuse women. Cosby's legacy may be tarnished a while, but it will not be destroyed. Nor should it be.

Twenty years from now, some kid will watch the Cosby Show or Bill's Fatherhood stories on some new digital technology and laugh just as hard as we laughed when we first saw them. His comedic genius is not diminished by these allegations any more than Errol Flynn being prosecuted for statutory rape diminished his star quality or Woody Allen's alleged rape of his adopted daughter prevented his work from remaining so appreciated that he received a Cecil B. DeMille award this year.

All that said, sadly, this is where we stand. We either believe that twenty women (and possibly more), many of whom have had no contact with each other, are suffering from some weird form of hysteria in which they single out for destruction one man with a beloved image and legacy, or we believe a beloved man may also be a verbally abusive, sexual predator. You may choose to believe, as at least one jury has, that multiple women are lying about one man or that a man who drugs women and then has sex with them is not a rapist. Your belief does not make the truth of the accusations any less probable. 

Whatever any of us believe about this case, we the people lose. Justice has been battered. Lives have been cracked. Nobody with empathy can be happy about any of this. All of this sordid tale is worthy of our sorrow. 


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