The Psychology of Sexual Abuse

The allegations against Bill Cosby are shocking. He has long been a cultural icon whose name has been nearly synonymous with morality (a bald morality devoid of Jesus, mind you, but morality by the world’s standards nonetheless). But 15 women accusing him of rape is no joke, and regardless of whether or not he did it, his reputation will be tarnished forever. I don’t care to discuss that though.

What I want to address is a subject that I’ve heard raised on the radio as well as in the barbershop that I manage. The issue I’d like to address is the one pertaining to why come out now and not when these alleged attacks first took place. A coworker of mine gets incensed every time the subject is brought up and blames the alleged victims for waiting so long to come forward. In his mind this is a clear sign of Cosby’s innocence.

But he also adds that even if Cosby is guilty, these women are making themselves look stupid by keeping quit for so long. Surely had they really been assaulted they would have gone to the authorities immediately; I mean everybody knows that, right? WRONG! I’ve not read any studies on the subject (I really wish I had statistics to bolster my claims here) but I can speak anecdotally because I know dozens (that’s right; dozen in the plural) of people who have been sexually assaulted.

I know both women and men who have been abused sexually, whether molested or raped (some violently and some who have been victim to date rape), and there’s a common denominator in all of their testimonies: SHAME. I don’t know a single person who has been abused sexually who hasn’t felt some kind of shame about it. Some of those I know who were strong enough to tell on their abuser were met with scorn and doubt from those they told. Most were too traumatized or too deceived into thinking they were to blame to say anything at all initially.

The thing I tried to explain to my coworker (repeatedly), was that many women (and men as well) who are victims of sexual assault don’t say anything because speaking about it causes them to relive the experience. In addition, many believe themselves to have been at fault for a variety of reasons (e.g., not fighting against the attack as hard as they could have; coming on too strong and inviting the attack; putting themselves in a situation to be attacked; etc.). The point is that there’s a lot of moving parts to why someone wouldn’t just up and tell on their abuser.

And I know a bunch of nobodies (and by that I mean people who are not well known by the general public) who were abused by a bunch of nobodies. Bill Cosby is a somebody. Again, he’s been a cultural icon for half a century! Standup comedy (clean standup comedy at that); movies; wildly popular television programs; endorsements; philanthropy; etc. Now think of how that impacts the dynamic. You have a number of women who have allegedly been sexually assaulted by one of the most loved figures in recent American memory. How easy is it to just up and tell on him given the broad range of emotions they’re feeling and the magnitude of his public persona?

It’s not easy at all. It’s not easy for nobodies to tell on nobodies let alone nobodies tell on famous people. So why now? Why stay quiet for all this time? Well, I don’t have all of the facts, so I don’t know exactly when these women started to come out of the woodwork, but lets say that they all came out within a month or two of each other. It’s not so difficult to account for that (and we see it with these types of cases all the time). There is strength in numbers. One victim stepping forward empowers another to do the same. So on and so forth. It’s the reason that support groups exist.

Now I don’t know if Bill Cosby is a serial rapist or not. I don’t find it implausible. In fact, I tend to find 15 women accusing him of rape well after they can seek legal recourse (and from what I’ve read, none are seeking damages either) more implausible, which is to say that given the scope of the accusation and the similarity in the stories of the alleged victims (at least from what I’ve read), I tend to think that there’s a good chance he did it. But Bill Cosby isn’t the issue here. The issue is thinking that it’s just as easy to report a sexual crime as it is to report a hit and run or burglary. It’s not. Not even close.

Just something to ponder for those who are quick to blame the alleged victims of sexual crimes. Much more could be said but I’ll leave it to the experts to say it.

B”H

3 thoughts on “The Psychology of Sexual Abuse

  1. This is not in response to the blog post but the blog in general: Wow! A great resource blog that I just stumbled upon by accident! This is going under bookmarks!

  2. Nick, this is unfortunate. Over breakfast this morning, I told a colleague that often the sins of our youth or younger years, sometimes come back to haunt us. But I hope we’re more forgiven.

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