A Powerful Response To the Bill Cosby Rape Claims

by Alanna Bennett

The rape allegations surrounding Bill Cosby have been around for a long time. It wasn't until recently, though, that they really started to saturate the public image of the legendary comedian — something that was arguably kicked off when Hannibal Buress called him out onstage during a set. Now Barbara Bowman, a woman who claims to have been sexual assaulted by Cosby, has written an op-ed in The Washington Post that brings up a very good question: Since she and other women have been speaking up about their alleged assaults at the hand of Cosby for years now, why did it take a male comic's word to get people to actually start paying attention?

You should really read the entire op-ed, but here is a bit of what she outlines about her experience — it's a recollection that's far too familiar a narrative, even without the fame of the man she's accusing:

Back then, the incident was so horrifying that I had trouble admitting it to myself, let alone to others. But I first told my agent, who did nothing. (Cosby sometimes came to her office to interview people for “The Cosby Show” and other acting jobs.) A girlfriend took me to a lawyer, but he accused me of making the story up. Their dismissive responses crushed any hope I had of getting help; I was convinced no one would listen to me. That feeling of futility is what ultimately kept me from going to the police. I told friends what had happened, and although they sympathized with me, they were just as helpless to do anything about it. I was a teenager from Denver acting in McDonald’s commercials. He was Bill Cosby: consummate American dad Cliff Huxtable and the Jell-O spokesman. Eventually, I had to move on with my life and my career.

I didn’t stay entirely quiet, though: I’ve been telling my story publicly for nearly 10 years.

And yet:

Only after a man, Hannibal Buress, called Bill Cosby a rapist in a comedy act last month did the public outcry begin in earnest. [...] While I am grateful for the new attention to Cosby’s crimes, I must ask my own questions: Why wasn’t I believed? Why didn’t I get the same reaction of shock and revulsion when I originally reported it? Why was I, a victim of sexual assault, further wronged by victim blaming when I came forward? The women victimized by Bill Cosby have been talking about his crimes for more than a decade. Why didn’tour stories go viral?

Bowman's story has been heartbreaking and outrage-inducing since the beginning, so why has it taken so long for people to finally hear her? We know why, and that's part of the tragedy. Bill Cosby is the kind of figure in American cultural history whom it is very uncomfortable to confront in the context of what's been accused. But here's the thing about that: No matter how uncomfortable it is for our culture to face his actions head-on, it has been worse for Bowman.

The public is not a judge or jury, but part of combatting the infuriatingly thorough status of rape culture is listening to those who do speak up. She's been speaking up for decades — it's time we really heard her.