This week I read a lot about rape.
I became aware that Bill Cosby was almost certainly a rapist about 10 years ago, when Andrea Costand brought a civil suit against him that included 13 women with similar accusations. Her story and motives were questioned; the case was settled out of court; and I was left with a familiar feeling, the foggy-headed queasiness that comes from living in a world where probable or known sex offenders are walking right beside you, or up there starring on the screen.
I am victim of sexual assault myself, and these sort of non-resolutions have always messed with my head. Maybe it’s not that bad a thing to have happened, I think, despite knowing otherwise. Maybe what seems obvious and clear is actually not. Maybe it’s unreasonable to expect sexual wrongdoing to be punished. And then there’s this whole idea of punishment, meted out by courts and resulting in prison—something about that can seem off.
I’m sure I’m not alone in my confusion. Collectively, we have a hard time processing sex crimes. Why didn’t they say anything? We ask that again and again. Less often, but also: Why do so many of us keep quiet? We veer between self-righteous certitude about how others should act and uncomfortable shrugs.
Ta-Nehisi Coates outlines his regret over not seriously addressing the rape accusations against Cosby when in 2008 he wrote a long reported essay about Cosby’s criticism of the black community’s morality.
In Philadelphia Magazine, Liz Spikol writes a powerful open letter explaining exactly why it’s so common for women not to go to the hospital or police after being raped.
In Rolling Stone, Sabrina Rubin Erdely reports on the experience of one young woman who was gang raped at a fraternity at University of Virginia and the circumstances that contributed to her not pressing charges—including a group of peers telling her in the immediate aftermath that reporting the rape was not worth the social toll it would take on them or on her.
Sometimes I get weary from reading and thinking so much about sexual assault. It gets me down. It doesn’t always feel healthy. But I’m convinced turning away is the wrong strategy. Blazing the light down on these dark places, magnifying it through a convex glass until it burns like a laser—it’s a start, anyway. In the wake of the Rolling Stone report and the reaction to it, the University of Virginia has suspended all fraternities as of yesterday. It does seem like there are changes afoot. But it’s worth noting that the university was aware students were reporting having been gang-raped at fraternities long before the article came out. The changes are not happening fast enough.