It’s unclear to me why so many people are still shocked and saddened by Bill Cosby’s admissions of sexual abuse and assault. And while he certainly deserves a chance for healing and redemption (after paying for his crimes), it’s hard to believe that anyone would be “on his side” anymore.
However, the predominant narrative about sexual violence still centers on this idea that most men are rapists. This is simply not the case. Most men are NOT rapists. Most men like to have sex that is consensual, and don’t want to hurt women.
Bill Cosby may not be a typical man. But he certainly looks like a typical rapist.
He is a serial offender. When you hear that one out of four or five women and one out of six men are sexually abused or assaulted in their lifetimes, it makes you worry that everyone you meet might be an offender. This is not the case. Most offenders are serial offenders like Bill Cosby, who is accused of drugging and assaulting dozens of women – DOZENS. In a 2002 Lisak study published in Violence and Victims, he found that the average serial rapist had 14 victims. Typical.
He is someone you know and love(d). Perpetrators of sexual violence are not ugly monsters living in caves. They are your beloved uncles and aunts, grandparents, and cute guys (or gals) from your neighborhood or campus. It takes some social skill to offend again and again, to lure victims, and to manipulate the world around you to get away with your crime. According to one study, nearly ¾ of violence against women was perpetrated by someone known to the victim, usually a spouse or intimate partner.
He didn’t call his own behavior rape. In a recent Washington Post survey, 1% of respondents thought that having sex with a person who was incapacitated or unconscious was NOT sexual assault. Another 3% thought this situation was unclear. These are the people we should be worried about, and that we should work to identify. Bill Cosby just thought he was having sex with women he liked, and didn’t seem troubled by the fact that he was drugging them.
He targeted his victims. Most perpetrators do not rape their victims by accident, after a night of partying and hanging out. They are predatory by nature. They go into the night with a plan to incapacitate a target, isolate him/her, and use psychological and physical violence to manipulate him/her into submission. They buy drugs in advance. They stake out victims. It’s sick. It’s gross. It’s not a “gray area” kind of thing. And it’s typical of rapists.
He got away with his crimes. If rapists go to great lengths to target victims and assault them in circumstances that would be difficult to prove AND don’t believe that their actions are wrong, it should be no surprise that they get away with their crimes. The one thing that makes Bill Cosby atypical is that he actually kind of, sort of confessed. Our criminal justice system – and the court of public opinion – rely on “evidence” or “confession” to convict people of crimes. Rape and sexual violence are crimes that are easy to get away with, especially when we aren’t paying attention to what real perpetrators look like. With that in mind, it’s no wonder that 60-80% of rapes go unreported.