On Wednesday, the highest court in Philadelphia overturned Bill Cosby’s sexual assault conviction. The court had found an agreement a previous prosecutor made in 2005 promising to forgo prosecuting Cosby permanently in exchange for Cosby’s testimony. Cosby then gave four sworn depositions, which included several incriminating statements, so the prosecutor charged Cosby anyway—a decision the court now says was against the law. The court ordered Cosby’s immediate release from prison, which could happen as soon as this afternoon.
So to recap: Sixty women came forward and accused Cosby of sexual assault and rape. Sixty. Today, a court told them that their stories—all 60 of them—did not matter.
And still, somehow, there are people who don’t understand why victims choose not to come forward or share their stories or press charges. Still, we are demonized if we refrain from joining a chorus of other survivors. Still, we are forced to watch political talking heads feign surprise when victims do speak their truths months, years, even decades later, our intentions demonized and our motives questioned.
Still, there are people who refuse to acknowledge why some of us will never come forward at all.
These survivors do it all in the hopes that the system will do what it rarely does: give a victim of sexual assault justice.
The statistics regarding arrest, prosecution, and conviction of “alleged” rapists have been regurgitated ad nauseum. But just in case: Out of 1,000 rapes, only 310 are reported. Of those reported, only 50 will lead to an arrest, only 28 cases will end in a felony conviction, and only 25 offenders will be incarcerated. We’ve watched rapists receive months in jail; their college swim record and ability to eat a steak valued above the humanity of their victims; their crime defined as nothing more than “20 minutes of action.”
And still, we’ve watched those who do come forward be re-traumatized over and over and over again as they are asked to detail meticulously what someone else did to them multiple times. To respond to callous queries that can only be described as victim-blaming. To detail their past sexual history as if that, in any way, justifies anything at all. Sometimes it’s even in front of the entire world, with elected officials—including the president of the United States—publicly deriding you as a wave of death threats forces them into hiding.
And these survivors do it all in the hopes that the justice system will do what it rarely does: give a victim of sexual assault justice.
It’s long-past time for a society anchored in rape culture to stop putting pressure on victims to come forward.
Let’s get one giant, glaringly obvious thing clear here: The reality of what happened to us does not hinge on whether or not we come forward, let alone come forward on some faux timetable people deem “acceptable” or remember “just enough” for you to not question our recollections. Whether we speak it or not, our truth is our truth. Our trauma is real. Our pain, undeniable.
But so is our strength and our courage. You decided not to call the police after that night in college? You’re still strong. You never told a friend about the time you were raped by your boyfriend? You’re still courageous. Bill Cosby gets his conviction overturned and can walk free? The 60 women who came forward are still victims and survivors.
It’s long past time for a society anchored in rape culture to stop putting pressure on victims to come forward, especially if that pressure includes emotionally manipulating us by telling us our stories matter. Yes, of course they do, but that’s not what those people mean. They mean “your story will bring about justice” or “your story will save other women” or “your story will put him behind bars.” And yet, clearly, that is not the case. It rarely is.
Our stories matter because they’re ours, which means they’re ours to tell when and if we’re ready. If we aren’t ready, now or never and because of cases like Cosby’s—far too many cases to mention—continue to support us and believe us and love us.
And if you can’t do that? Then just leave us alone.
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