When I was a teen I was out with a friend and a gang leader picked a fight with my friend because someone the gang leader liked had interest in my friend. Both my friend and I were hit and our lives threatened with weapons.
For a number of reasons I never reported it.
Close to 20 years later after having this experience tucked away for years, my attackers face scrolls across my Facebook newsfeed. Apparently he had been brutally murdered in his home and this was a news report about his killing that someone shared. As I scrolled I saw dozens of my Facebook friends talking about how great a man this guy was and how wonderful he was in the community.
This was all shocking to me and I was emotionally triggered. I immediately felt the same fear that I felt the night I was attacked – as if it had just occurred. I wondered what happened and why no one was talking about his gang activity. Then I saw the comment sections. EVERY person who spoke up about his violence was immediately verbally attacked, questioned, and shut down by people who didn’t know him in that light. Others who had been harmed by him were told that they were trying to tarnish his great “legacy”. People were told “the past is in the past!” and to “get over it”. Reading these things made me feel not only scared but also alone. Some of these defenders were people I considered friends. Who could I turn to and say that I too had been harmed? Who would believe me or care?
I reached out to some people who shared the article about this guy. At best they were indifferent. It just wasn’t their issue and they couldn’t offer me much compassion or empathy.
My friend who had been the target of the attack passed away years ago, so I felt completely alone to deal with what happened and how this news made me feel.
Thankfully I have some amazing people in my support network who were equipped to be there for me during that time and help me get back to feeling normal and processing those emotions.
Bill Cosby defenders trigger me the same way that the defenders of my attacker triggered me. This is bigger than Cosby EVER being found guilty, innocent, or otherwise. HOW we respond to allegations against beloved figures speaks volumes to survivors of abuse.
I’ve been a pretty vocal advocate for survivors but this has taxed my soul. People have carelessly made jokes, minimized the importance of how we talk about rape, and some have been outright dismissive. Many people I don’t even bother engaging. People I care a lot about I will try to have conversations with, but there’s only so much that I can do. It comes at a personal cost for me to engage others on how we impact survivors. So when I see it’s going nowhere the loss for me is far deeper than a Facebook disagreement. I no longer feel like you are a safe person and will regard you as such until you demonstrate otherwise.
So this larger conversation is about Bill Cosby but it’s also about rape culture – the two are inextricably connected. You can’t touch the Cosby situation without also touching rape and abuse culture and if you’re not ready to deal sensitively with that, then you are NOT a safe person.
To every survivor, to every person who was attacked and has survived in silence, to every person who has spoken up only to be shut down; I hear you, I feel you, I’m with you. We will heal, we’ll keep surviving, and we will make the world a safer place.