Why Are Some People Still Defending Bill Cosby?

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Now that documents reveal Bill Cosby confessing to buying drugs to give to potential sexual partners — behavior that it would be very difficult to interpret as signifying anything other than intent to assault —some of his stalwart defenders, not to mention legal experts, are finally coming to the inevitable conclusion.

“About Bill Cosby. Sadly his own testimony offers PROOF of terrible deeds, which is ALL I have ever required to believe the accusations,” tweeted musician and actress Jill Scott, who had previously resisted accusing the man she called a mentor. “I stood by a man I respected and loved. I was wrong. It HURTS!!! When you get it ALL right, holla.”

Raven Symone is another Cosby defender and former colleague who has admitted that the situation has been changed by the admission, although she’s fallen short of saying she was wrong to support her onetime TV dad. “He gave me my first job. But at the same time, you need the proof, and then I’ll be able to give my judgment here or there. And now there’s real facts,” she said on The View today. Whoopi Goldberg, on the other hand, remained stalwart in refusing to change her mind in the same episode. “This is my opinion and in America, still — I know it’s a shock — but you actually were innocent until proven guilty; he has not been proven a rapist,” she said.

As other writers have been quick to point out, these are just a few high-profile examples of a trend that is present everywhere. It has been alarming to see these celebrities — and many, many others — flat-out deny the words of dozens of accusers, most of whom had no monetary or career-based reason to come forward. For Scott and perhaps Symone, this “see no evil” stance in the face of over 25 individual stories required a smaller leap than it did for them to deny one simple “yes” under oath in a deposition. And for Goldberg, even the deposition hasn’t been enough. This reality is undoubtedly depressing. Because believing these women rather than forgetting them would not have required a great stretch of the imagination — most of the cases ranged far beyond “he said, she said” stories of sex, after all, and again, there were so many accusers, with so much to lose and so little to gain.

And yet because of rape culture and celebrity culture, the simple act of trusting women remained too difficult for too many. This is our reality. “Even after a few women stepped forward to bring Cosby’s actions to light, it took two men to raise concern and then verify the stories of nearly 40 female accusers,” Jamilah King wrote today. “The first was comedian Hannibal Buress, whose November stand-up set about the accusations against Cosby went viral. The second was Cosby himself, whose lawyers fought bitterly for months to keep the decade-old deposition from going public.”

Encouragingly, the evidence continues to mount, yet only rarely in these kinds of cases will there be a sworn deposition and news outlets with the resources and determination to read it — which means that widespread denial in the face of victims’ testimony could persist. “This deep unwillingness to listen to women and tendency to take a man’s word over a woman’s even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary is a chronic problem when it comes to sexual violence, even when we’re not talking about famous men like Bill Cosby,” Amanda Marcotte writes. On the other hand, as Marcotte also notes, it might be a good turn of events that this kind of strong evidence was unearthed, and that the dozens of accusers were enough to convince journalists to dig deeper.

Futhermore, in his deposition, Cosby admitted only to drug use, not to nonconsensual sex (which explains why so many of the headlines hedge around the word rape). Yet the widespread public outcry shows that most people now overwhelmingly believe sexual contact with an incapacitated person is assault. This is a change. And it also demonstrates, to use a crude analogy, that where there’s smoke, there’s very often fire — and high-profile cases can likely reveal true misdeeds, rather than the trumped-up hoaxes that haunt the popular imagination.