Dear America: It's not just Bill Cosby

The media has focused on a single, sensational case. But there are many, many more out there.

Bill Cosby
(Image credit: Getty Images)

You may think you don't know anyone who's been raped. You may be a man who thinks this, or a woman. You may be a rape survivor and think you're alone. You may have lived a life blessedly free of sexual assault and harassment, and think you're typical. But I'm here to tell you that you're wrong. You know someone who's been raped. You may even know several someones.

This week's revelation that Bill Cosby "said he got drugs to give women for sex" (which, rendered more accurately, would be "got drugs to render women incapable of saying no," which is to say: "got drugs to facilitate rape") has led to a rush of conversation about Cosby himself. This is only natural and, indeed, important. A healthy society talks honestly about its heroes, and deposes them when they prove themselves not only not-heroic, but horrible. I'm not here to talk about the Cosby case, though.

I'm not here to talk about the Cosby case, because it and everything about it — the famous name, the repellant details, the abuse and humiliation that dozens of survivors have undergone at the hands of a society anxious to protect its image of St. Bill — is a symptom. Not the problem, but a symptom.

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We teach our boys, from a very young age, that access to sexual release is their right, that indeed, their manhood is to be judged by how many vaginas they can penetrate. We teach them that those who would deny them this release may be manipulated and ignored, because the measure of a man is more important than the humanity of a woman. We encourage them — in winks, nods, jokes, songs, and men's magazines — to view women as prey and as body parts, women's own needs and desires as obstacles to sexual release. If removing those obstacles requires roofies, so be it — but often enough, copious amounts of alcohol (the original date rape drug) will serve.

There are many reasons that Bill Cosby has gotten away with so much for so long (47 accusers and, I feel safe in saying, counting). The power that fame brings, our warm collective memories of his work, and the pleasant story that Cosby's career has told us about about American race relations have all played mutually reinforcing roles.

But American men know that you don't have to be famous or beloved to get away with rape.

Men and boys — celebrity and plebian, black and white, rich and poor — have always gotten away with raping women and girls (and other men and boys). Whoever you rape, as long as your victim doesn't enjoy significantly more social power than you do, you're pretty much going to get away with it. We should not be in the least surprised that Mr. Puddin' Pops assumed he'd get away with it, too.

Ultimately, what Cosby is accused of doing is not all that different from what other men and boys have done since time immemorial; indeed, it could be argued that Bill Cosby is simply unusually skilled in tactics employed at bars and family reunions every day, all over the country. If we look too closely at his crimes, I suspect, we will begin to get a little too close to our own, very personal histories — and for some of us, that is a very uncomfortable place to be.

Even as the American media was roiled this week with the news that Cosby had all but confessed his crimes a decade ago, other men were raping other women, both in places you've never been and quite possibly in your own town. On average, someone is sexually assaulted in America every two minutes of every day.

As was the case with Cosby, many of the victims in our daily deluge of American rape thought they could trust their attackers. According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network), some 80 percent of all rapes are committed by people the survivor knows; 47 percent of rapists "are a friend or an acquaintance." And 98 percent of rapists "will never spend a day in jail."

One in five American women report having been sexually assaulted; the next time you're among people, count the women, and divide by five.

You may think you don't know anyone who's been raped. But you're wrong.

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Emily L. Hauser

Emily L. Hauser is a long-time commentary writer. Her work has appeared in a variety of outlets, including The Daily Beast, Haaretz, The Forward, Chicago Tribune, and The Dallas Morning News, where she has looked at a wide range of topics, from helmet laws to forgetfulness to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.