Business of Men

Bill Cosby and the silence of women

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Several big names – including Jennifer Pryor and Samuel L Jackson — have this week joined the list of celebrities who have spoken out in support of the women assaulted by Bill Cosby, which has brought the question of his behavior back into the spotlight.

But it has also left open the question of how society manages to silence women in nearly every situation, and most seriously in the matter of assault.

I have been intrigued by the dialogue that has existed about the allegations of numerous women citing that they had been drugged and some sexually abused by mega star Cosby – whose career encompasses roles as a comedian, educator, author and philanthropist.  For the number of individuals who have supported Cosby, there is an undercurrent of anger toward the women who have decided to share their stories.  Some see it as women seeking visibility.  Others felt that they waited entirely too long to share and some even expressed that if it were true, they should have gone to the police department to report the situation.

Beverly Johnson’s account has some wondering if the other accounts (many were reported years ago) might have some truth to them.  Instead of addressing these charges, Cosby has chosen to remain silent.

Interesting to note that he has the ability to do so when many of the women who chose to voice their recollection of the event were forced not only into a situation against their will but they were also silenced because of his power.  The focus of this article is not to debate the allegations but to provide a perspective on the role of those who are silenced.

I grew up in the church.

I always valued pastors and their position.  As a college student, I stopped attending church as often.  A friend introduced me to a church in another city that I started visiting.  The Pastor was charismatic and an amazing teacher.  I enjoyed the services and even hosted Bible Study at my apartment inviting my friends to participate.  I remember one day, he invited me to his office on a Monday.  The church was closed and the only person present was his secretary.  I assumed because she was there and he was a man of the cloth, that it was a meeting to discuss my involvement in the church.  I was about to graduate and was elated that my spiritual leader was interested in my future.

As soon as I arrived, I went to the office and we began talking.  The conversation changed and shocked me.  He wanted to engage in some behavior that wasn’t ‘Christianly’ and made me so uncomfortable.  As I got up, he chased me around the office.  I remember running around his desk, literally begging that he leave me alone.  I ran to my car and called my boyfriend at that time and shared my horror.  He was ready to kill him.  We both decided to call our mutual friend who introduced us to the church.  She had us call the Bishop.  The Bishop informed me that he had done this before and they would offer him counseling once again.  There was no punishment.  Just pushing the issue under the table. Again.

I left that church and actually didn’t become a part of another congregation for years.  Despite the fact that he did not touch me, he damaged me.  Why didn’t I speak out?  Because I felt that I did not have a case.  There were no cell phones at that time to record the incident.  It was my word against his.  He didn’t actually rape me but the mental experience for me was devastating.  I lost trust in men.  I lost trust in my faith.  I lost trust in systems that were designed to protect me.  I felt that I did not have a leg to stand on.  He was a preacher.  I was a student.  So for years, I kept quiet.

I found out almost 20 years later that he continued to do the same thing to more than twenty women that a lawsuit was brought against him.  To this day, he is still serving in a role as a pastor with no charges, no justice and still interacting with women and girls.  Many of the women even in this situation dropped the charges because of the harrassment of his followers and threats to destroy their lives.

So often women remain quiet because they see instances like this in which the perpetrator is not punished but women are dragged through the mud .  They are viewed as if they are at fault if they say something or they do not chose to go through the circus of interrogation for their current life or past decisions.  The Bill Cosby situation reminds me of not only my story but the story of so many women who have kept quiet and chose to move on in pain and silence.

I’ve learned several things about myself over the years about my voice in the midst of my pain:

  • I am valuable even when others might not understand or appreciate me.
  • Everyday, I have the opportunity to make meaning out of every situation.  I can not allow the meanings others impose on me to define who I am.
  • I don’t have to accept bad behavior and I don’t have to punish myself because of the actions of others.

As women, we must create spaces for our stories, for opportunities of authenticity.  It is important to know our voices matter and there are others who have experienced similar pain.  We must also create support systems to know that we can be honest and not alone in our moments of brokenness and despair.  Our voices matter and we can no longer stand by watching our sisters become prosecuted in the jury of public opinion while they suffer and sacrifice in private.

About Dr Froswa Booker-Drew

Dr Froswa’ Booker-Drew is a PhD graduate from Antioch University in Leadership and Change and the National Director of Community Engagement for World Vision, US Programs. She provides coaching and training for individuals and organizations on social capital, relational leadership and identifying one’s Immunity to Change. For more information about the book or to purchase, please visit www.austinbrotherspublishing.com

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