Bill Cosby’s Victims and Me

In the midst of the national movement of resistance against police brutality and racial discrimination, it’s been hard to imagine posting on any other topic. What can I add? Only this: My heart is broken for my country, and for African American young men and boys especially, and I’m rejoicing at the emergence of new community leaders who are organizing smart, assertive, righteous challenges to the status quo. I stand in solidarity with them.

But all along, there has been another story ticking its way across the bottom of TV screens and, after hearing others’ reactions, I need to say something about it, about Bill Cosby’s allegedly decades-long, criminal hobby of drugging and raping women. I particularly need to talk back to those who attempt to discredit the victims by asking, “If it’s true, why didn’t she report it when it happened, or — come on — even within the same decade it happened?”

In addition to the many, many, many disincentives our society dishes out to discourage victims from reporting (lack of advocates in hospitals and police stations; grueling evidence tests; unacceptable backlogs in processing that bitterly obtained evidence; public stigma; lack of public funding of effective prosecution; shame; fear of retaliation; lack of affordable mental health services; and on and on …), there is the effect of the drug itself.

In 1989, I was raped. In 2014, I fully integrated the memory that I was raped.

In 1989, I was in college. My boyfriend had recently broken up with me. Knowing this, an acquaintance, Karen, set me up on a date with her ex-boyfriend, Craig. I wasn’t very interested in Craig, but I didn’t think there would be any harm in going on one date. Maybe it would be a good distraction.

We went for a walk one afternoon to get ice cream, then walked back to campus. He invited me back to his dorm to continue our conversation. We sat on his couch to talk and soon he was pressuring me to taste the remains of his peach shake. I didn’t want any but I tasted it to be polite. He pressured me to taste it again, to finish it. I did.

It was still daylight outside when we went to his room but it was 2 or 3 in the morning when he walked me back to my dorm building. The hours in between are punctuated only by two brief memories. In both of them, it’s very dark and someone is having sex with me; in the second, someone gives me a drink of water that has something in it. I remember also part of the walk home, how I could hardly stand or walk on my own, that Craig left me at the door of my dorm building under the bug light, and that the night was very cold and full of stars.

It was 1989. No one I knew had ever heard of “roofies.” The popular understanding of a “date rape drug” was still a few years off. There was no easily accessible explanation for what happened to me.

So, I decided that Craig and I must like each other, even though I didn’t really feel it. He was arrogant and self-centered, from an extremely privileged background. I was a wannabe back-to-the-lander and social justice activist, the first in my immediate family to go to college. We didn’t have much in common. But we had sex, right? I tried to call him, but he resisted talking to me. Winter break came and he went back home for vacation and that was that.

In my head, I referred to it as “that weird date.” Outside of my head, I never spoke of it. It was too hazy. But recently, an array of events came together to bring out the truth.

First, there was my writing group. A couple years ago, group member Ellen Bravo started working on a novel that traces the emotional and political fall-out that results when a wealthy boy rapes a scholarship girl in her dorm at an elite college. (Ellen’s brilliant book, Again and Again, will be out soon from She Writes Press, so keep an eye out for it.) As we read and discussed the chapters in meeting after meeting, the similarities between the novel’s plot and the handful of memories I had about the “weird date” kept elbowing their way toward the front of my mind.

Next, I happened to read an article about date rape drugs. The description of their effects on body, mind, and memory rang a loud bell. As strange as it sounds now — to ears accustomed to the idea of women having to watch their drinks at parties and bars — it finally occurred to me, after 20-plus years, that maybe I had been drugged.

Third, I had a series of powerful sessions with a Myofascial Release (MFR) therapist. It’s not uncommon in MFR bodywork to have old, unaddressed memories assert themselves. One of the miracles of MFR is that it helps the body replay these muscle memories and “unwind” them, so they are no longer creating stress and pain. I was getting treated for something else, but the rape came up multiple times. Over the course of a few months, I unwound the holding or tying down of my legs, arms, and head, the partial dislocation of my left shoulder, being pressed onto my hands and knees, and the bruising sensation of a hard grip under the arms, as if I had been dragged.

I couldn’t completely remember, all these years, what really happened on that “weird date,” but my body never forgot. And thanks to literature, science, and MFR, I’ve been able to integrate my scraps of conscious recollection with my muscle memories and find out the truth.

Because Craig drugged me, I lost 10 or 12 hours of my life. Because Craig drugged me, I was deprived of any way to document and tell my story coherently, and therefore, to seek immediate justice. There were no witnesses as far as I know, and if there were, they were there at Craig’s invitation. And on that note, because Craig drugged me, I have been denied the relative peace of mind that there was only one assailant, or that there was no video recording made, or any other closure.

I’m telling you this because I think you should know the almost insurmountable hurdles to reporting that are raised by drug-facilitated sexual assault. The theft of your memory is the theft of your ability to advocate — immediately and effectively — for yourself.

Now, situate that theft within a set of social, economic, and political structures that are designed to cast doubt and shame on the victim, streamline the workload of cops and other authorities, and protect elite men, and you’ve got the perfect conditions for non-reporting.

I’m doing well now. I survived, as MFR practitioners are trained to remind clients when they finish unwinding from a trauma. Regaining the truth has been restorative for me, but it’s taken a long time. After 25 years, the statute of limitations has run out, but what justice I can recapture on my own, for myself, I have. (More on this in my next post.)

Because I know the effects of drug-facilitated sexual assault on me, I stand with Bill Cosby’s victims. Whether they reported his crimes 30 years ago or just pieced together the truth last week, I believe them, not him.

The next time someone says, “Why didn’t she say anything sooner?” I hope you will think of this story, of how long it took for me to follow the trail to my stolen experience and steal it back.

December 31, 2014 Blog Posts

4 thoughts on “Bill Cosby’s Victims and Me

  1. Jennifer,
    I have been following these incidences as well. Initially, it broke my heart because I have been an admirer of Cosby’s work since I was a child; he was the first African-American person I noticed and “knew” since I grew up in an all white community.
    Since these allegations were made public, I have had some discussions with several people. Mostly, men are confused not only by women’s powerlessness in reporting these situations, moreover, by the psychological doubting and self-blaming they go through “Did I give the wrong messages? How could I let this happen?” I imagine how painful it is to go to authorities and loved ones when the victim herself feels confused about who is responsible. The other issue is the coming forth of friends of victims who remain silent and reporters who feel like bystanders because they didn’t investigate past allegations. The power of Cosby to control other’s silence is a powerful system at work. He is a “groomer” who uses his perceptive and intellectual abilities to identify the right victims and create the false trusting situations. Most people do not understand that type of intentional planning to harm another. More importantly, I’m sorry for the violence done to you. The brain is an organ that holds our personality, intelligence and ability to function, but when it is traumatized it becomes confused and messed up; not knowing what to do with a memory. I’m glad that you healed the your memories and restored the integrity of your beautiful brain. Thanks for sharing your story. Peace, Linda

  2. Upon reading your compelling retelling of this horrible event, I feel ashamed to be a part of the male gender. There is no rational or justifiable excuse for Craig’s or Bill Cosby’s behavior — none. None at all. Sorry…

  3. Thank you for writing this, Jennifer. It took great courage. The answer to “Why didn’t you say something sooner?” is centuries old. To do so was and in some cultures still is a death sentence. It is embedded in a stone-age male entitlement that pervades every society and is enabled only by male size and physical strength. That has translated to dominance in many other aspects of existence and survival, not the least of which is economic. The more affluent and/or societally powerful the male, the greater his sense of entitlement. Not acknowledged is that it shows males who commit such atrocities for what they really are: weak, undisciplined, cowardly, inhumane and without morals or integrity. Women and girls who are victimized by such savagery and, not just survive, but rise above it to thrive, are the true titans of strength and courage. I salute and praise any woman with the steel and grit to “same something,” no matter when they do so.

    I probably haven’t said anything here that you don’t already know, but I do want to thank you again for your post.

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