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The history of rape and sexual assault prosecutions is, unfortunately, also the history of men getting off in all sorts of perverse ways—sexually and legally.
The latest high-profile rapist—sorry, alleged rapist—to get off on charges of sexual assault thanks to a deadlocked jury is Bill Cosby, the comedian who, apart from enjoying a long-running career as a comedian and a beloved model TV sitcom dad—playing a gynecologist no less, raising a rambunctious but exemplary family—also apparently enjoyed an equally long career drugging and sexually assaulting women.
And it’s not as if he’s denied it. In a 2005 deposition, he admitted to giving Quaaludes and other drugs to women, including Andrea Constand, the former athlete who brought a civil suit against Cosby that year, and who was his accuser in the recently concluded criminal case that the judge ruled a mistrial.
Incapacitated by the drugs he had given her, Cosby then said in the deposition, “I don’t hear her say anything. I don’t feel her say anything. And so I continue and I go into that area between permission and rejection. I am not stopped.”
How Cosby ever imagined that Constand would be capable of signaling her opposition to his actions while she was drifting in and out of consciousness is baffling. Did he expect her to actually protest in her state of intoxication and immobility? Or did he expect her to wiggle one big toe for “yes” and two big toes for “no”? Because he didn’t “hear” or “feel” her say anything, he assumed that what she really meant to express while essentially knocked out cold was, “Sure, go ahead, I’m totally up for sexual assault.”
Which is exactly the same thing Brock Turner assumed when he sexually assaulted the Stanford rape victim next to a dumpster during a campus party. She was so drunk that she passed out, yet Turner took that to mean she wanted him so much that she allowed him to penetrate her with a foreign object. Plus she was dressed provocatively, which for Turner was clearly a go-signal to “Please, please sexually assault me.”
Which is exactly what one juror assumed about Andrea Constand. “Let’s face it: She went up to his house with a bare midriff and incense and bath salts. What the heck?”
What the heck? More like what the f*ck, you backward-thinking, victim-blaming, rape myth-propagating, rape culture-enabling despicable man? As Joe Biden himself said, sex with consent is sex; anything else is rape.
“Guys,” the former vice president recently reminded students at George Mason University, “a woman who’s dead drunk cannot consent. You are raping her… Consent requires affirmative consent. If you’re too drunk to be able to consent, it is not consent.”
Yet many men continue to think consent need not be expressed explicitly; it can be implied from the shortness of a woman’s skirt, the flirtatiousness of her smile, her receptiveness to a man’s advances, even her awe of his celebrity status. All that means a resounding yes, even if, at some point—at any point—a woman resists, protests, says no, even if she screams and kicks and fights. Even if she is unable to do any of these things to communicate that she does not consent because she cannot consent, because she is too drunk, too intoxicated, too out of it, or plain knocked out cold.
And yet many men believe their fame gives them a free pass and exonerates them from blame. Donald Trump, to give one nauseating example. Sporting champions. Movie stars. College Olympic-hopefuls. The list of men who have gotten away with rape and even murder is tragically a long one; however, some do eventually get their just desserts. OJ Simpson was acquitted for the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman, but was later found by a judge to be liable for their deaths and ordered to pay $33.5 million to their estates. In 2008, he was found guilty of kidnapping and armed robbery and sentenced to nine to 33 years. A parole hearing is scheduled for the 20th of July, unfortunately.
Similarly, Oscar Pistorius was initially found guilty of the culpable homicide of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Feb. 14, 2013, and sentenced to house arrest, a ruling that scandalized South Africa for its implied exoneration of the disabled Olympian star. The verdict was reversed by a higher court, finding that Pistorius fired with intent to kill his girlfriend who was hiding behind a bathroom door, despite his claims that he mistook her for an intruder. Pronounced guilty of murder, Pistorius was sentenced to six years in prison.
Bill Cosby clearly thought he would get away with it, and he kept doing it for decades, and settling lawsuits in between. Some 60 women have come forward to denounce him, describing the chillingly similar modus operandi that Cosby himself admitted to in his 2005 deposition.
And now comes the irony of all ironies, an increasingly familiar trope in the narrative of false redemption so beloved of the PR handlers of rapists, alleged or otherwise. Call it the perversion of the “pay it forward” philosophy. First, Brock Turner says he will make it his life’s mission to educate college students about the dangers of campus drinking and sexual promiscuity. Now Bill Cosby announces that he will spend the summer touring town halls teaching people how to avoid being accused of rape, assault and harassment. As his publicist Andrew Wyatt put it, “This is bigger than Bill Cosby. This issue [being accused of rape] can affect any young person, especially young athletes of today. They need to know what they are facing when they are hanging out and partying, when they are doing certain things that they shouldn’t be doing. And it also affects married men.”
How very magnanimous of Bill Cosby. Giving back by telling men how to get off. Maybe someone should tell him that the best way to avoid accusations of rape is to not rape at all. Period.
B. Wiser is the author of Making Love in Spanish, a novel published by Anvil Publishing and available in National Book Store and Powerbooks, as well as online. When not assuming her Sasha Fierce alter-ego, she takes on the role of serious journalist and media consultant.
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