The story of the rape allegations against Bill Cosby continues to expand and swell on a tide of considerable public support (finally!) for the alleged victims’ stories, and the sheer number of accusers. In the past two days, several more woman have stepped forward and publicly added their names to the list of accusers, which is now at 15. This new list includes, most notably, model Janice Dickinson, who also spoke of her residual trauma after the attack.
“Stuffing feelings of rape and my unresolved issues with this incident has drove me into a life of trying to hurt myself because I didn’t have counsel and I was afraid,” she told Entertainment Tonight.
Dickinson joins Joan Tarshis and Barbara Bowman, two other women who have put their names and faces to their stories of assault by the comedian. All of them say they feared making their voices heard in the immediate aftermath, both to Cosby and in public. Yet all of them are telling their stories now with the same stated rationale: they want to support each other. They believe each other. They think it’s time for this madness, the charade of Cosby’s affable public persona, to come to an end.
“I’m doing this because it’s the right thing to do, and it happened to me, and this is the true story,” Dickinson told ET. “I believe all the other women.”
So why now, and not then? Why, in all the eerily similar stories of having dinner with a Cosby who had offered to mentor them, then being drugged, and waking up mid-assault or feeling that something had gone wrong the next morning, did none of these women call 911? Or even the tabloids? As Don Lemon asked Tarshi, rather obnoxiously, why did none of them bite Cosby mid-coerced blowjob?
In almost all the reported cases, these were young people being violated by someone impossibly famous, powerful, and older than they were. These assaults all took place during nights that began with overtures of friendship and collaboration and aid. The nature of rape culture is that other forces beyond clamped hands keep victims’ mouths silent, most of them forces of power that feed into widespread cultural assumptions. To wit: if it took over a decade for the stories of the initial 12 accusers, who filed a joint lawsuit, to truly be taken seriously by the public, how seriously would a single accusation here and there, in the ’60s and ’70s, have been taken by anyone?
“I was afraid of the consequences,” Dickinson told ET. “I was afraid of being labeled a whore or a slut and trying to sleep my way to the top of a career that never took place.”
It should be paramount in our minds that not a single one of these women has anything material to gain by telling her story. In fact, many of them, despite their numbers and the similarities to their stories, will still be pilloried by fans of the comedian, accused of some sort of nefarious scheme for personal gain.
Ta-Nehisi Coates has written a piece examining his own previous reporting on Cosby, and the reasons that he omitted a more thorough investigation of the rape charges. It is hard, even for male journalists with no relation to the victims, to mount enough acceptable evidence against a public figure accused of rape. Ultimately, Coates says, he wishes now that he had done differently then, wishes he had been more courageous in examining the rape charges.
Now, he has some choice words for Cosby’s defenders:
The heart of the matter is this: A defender of Bill Cosby must, effectively, conjure a vast conspiracy, created to bring down one man, seemingly just out of spite. And people will do this work of conjuration, because it is hard to accept that people we love in one arena can commit great evil in another. It is hard to believe that Bill Cosby is a serial rapist because the belief doesn’t just indict Cosby, it indicts us.