There are a lot of buzzwords people throw around on social media that aren’t always appropriate for the given circumstances. For instance, a white person wearing a braid of any sort is not cause to wave the cultural appropriation flag, just as expressing an opinion about someone online doesn’t mean it’s time to toss around the b-word: bullying. However, there are times when you have to call a spade a spade. And though Bill Cosby’s attorney Monique Pressley would like us to think the phrase victim-blaming is just a “tag word” people overzealously use to label things these days, unfortunately, after a 50-minute conversation with Marc Lamont Hill, she failed to realize it’s a tag word that so accurately applies to her commentary on Cosbygate.
As soon as people start bringing up the word responsibility in a rape case and only apply it to one of the parties involved, you know things are going to go downhill fast, and that’s exactly how the discussion between Pressley and Hill evolved on Huffington Post Live Friday. When Hill mentioned the notion that many see the dismissive response to the 40-plus women who’ve come forth alleging Bill Cosby drugged and raped them as “victim-blaming,” Pressley was quick to write off that opinion as being as insignificant as a “hashtag.”
“[Victim-blaming] is like a tag word. It’s a hashtag, even. It’s the prevailing way we label things,” Pressley said.
As Hill offered examples of said victim-blaming commentary, like “If you were raped why didn’t you…,” Pressley eagerly filled in the blank with “report, go to the hospital, do all of the things that rape counseling centers tell you to do immediately.”
Trying to give this woman a lifeline, Hill explained that no one would consider it wrong to tell someone to do the things noted. But he added that the concern is people fail to acknowledge the reasons victims often don’t follow those guidelines and that includes responses of disbelief, the burden of proof, and overall blame for actions they didn’t cause – hence the term victim-blaming. Asked whether she understands that concern at all, Pressley responded:
“Every person who says that something happened to them is not necessarily telling the truth and every person who says that something happened to them – generically in the world – is not necessarily a liar.”
Refusing to go into specifics regarding Cosby’s accusers and whether they might be lying or telling the truth, Pressley added: “I’m not speculating, I’m not thinking, I’m not opining, I’m not waxing poetic. What I’m saying is women have responsibility. We have responsibility for our bodies, we have responsibility for our decisions, we have responsibilities for the ways we conduct ourselves… I’m not talking about these women, I’m saying all women have responsibility…
“If a woman is violated by a man, and does not report, for whatever reason — and I’m not saying that the reason is good or bad or indifferent — in a court of law, the entire situation will never be brought forward for purposes of justice. So the only way for a woman to get the justice that she seeks and that – if her allegation is true – she deserves is to come forth. And even if the reasons that the woman did not do that are legitimate ones, what cannot happen, in my opinion, in the United States, is that 40 years later there is a prosecution tantamount to a witch hunt where there was no prosecution timely, and there was no civil suit timely… And there’s not any testimony or accusation from any of these women that Mr. Cosby in any way bound them, gagged them, prevented them from coming forward and saying whatever their truth was at the time. That’s not what happened.”
While Pressley’s explanation of the law as it is applied in these cases may be fair and true, she still fails to acknowledge the inherent bias against rape victims that prevents them from obtaining justice even when they do the necessary. Sort of how we tell Black boys to comply with police orders and everything will be alright, except when it’s not. That bias and underlying expectation of responsibility a rape victim is supposed to assume for someone else’s assault on them is what many feel is at the heart of the so-called “witch hunt” against Cosby. And just because the law may place a statute of limitations on the criminal justice a rape victim may seek doesn’t mean there’s ever a time to stop telling one’s story, or in this case stories, especially when you’ve been telling it for 40 years and no one bothered to listen or take it seriously.
There have been a number of women who sought “prosecution timely” like Lachele Covington, who at 20 years old in 2000 alleged that Cosby groped her before the District Attorney determined “no crime had been committed.” Four years later, former Temple employee Andrea Constand accused the comedian of drugging and fondling her, however no charges were filed due to “insufficient credible and admissible evidence.” A year later, Constand filed a civil suit with 13 women as potential witnesses, with one woman noting sexual assault dating back to the ‘70s. Cosby settled out of court. The obvious question, in the context of this discussion, is did victim-blaming (and socio-economic factors) play a role in the way justice was or wasn’t handed down. When you have female lawyers talking about the responsibility women have over their bodies and how they conduct themselves in the midst of a conversation on rape in 2015, it’s not hard to assume that mentality was even more prevalent in the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, and 2000s when these assaults are alleged to have happened.
We may never receive an admission of guilt from Cosby when it comes to raping women – he’s already fessed to the Quaaludes – but as Hill pointed out on Twitter, “Rape culture = NEEDING Cosby to admit he’s guilty before we believe it. If that’s the standard, almost no one would be guilty of rape.”
Rape culture = NEEDING Cosby to admit he’s guilty before we believe it. If that’s the standard, almost no one would be guilty of rape.
— Marc Lamont Hill (@marclamonthill) July 6, 2015
In America, we may be afforded the luxury of being deemed innocent until proven guilty, but it’s time for those in positions to administer the law to recognize that same right isn’t always afforded to those who report such crimes, and that’s especially true of rape victims and even more so when the dynamic includes a defendant with power and wealth. If we’re going to raise the topic of responsibility in relation to rape, let’s be sure the legal system understands that concept applies to them as well.