In light of all the Bill Cosby controversy last week, I have to admit that I was disgusted by all of the Bill Cosby everything! Folks were defending Bill Cosby’s actions because of his philanthropy to historically black college and universities (HBCUs), because he’s gotten honorary degrees, and my favorite- the conspiracy theory that he was trying to buy NBC. I’m not the best at math, but Fortune estimated that his net worth was once estimated at $400 million and in 1992, according to the New York Times, NBC’s asking price was $4 billion
You see what I did there? Yep. A Google search. If everyone who’s #teambill would do the same thing, we could have debunked these ridiculous claims already.
But I want to step away from Bill Cosby’s perceived persona and talk about the actual issues of consent we’re missing around the conversations we’re having. Since Cosby seems to be some of you all’s best friend, I’ll just stick to what he has actually said.
In his 2005 to 2006 deposition, Mr. Cosby spoke about survivor, Andrea Constand. He said he gave her one and a half tablets of Benadryl to relieve stress. He also said, “I walk her out. She does not look angry. She does not say to me, don’t ever do that again. She doesn’t walk out with an attitude of a huff, because I think that I’m a pretty decent reader of people and their emotions in these romantic sexual things, whatever you want to call them”.
This is where I lost it. It seems like we have this pervasive idea that consent does not need to be affirmative, that consent is something that’s “felt’, and on the other hand, the only way we know it’s rape is if the person is screaming, fighting, or yelling.
As a sexual health educator, I’m constantly speaking about what consent sounds, looks, and feels like. So I think I’ll break it down like we’re in one of my classes because the victim blaming has becoming unbearable.
I always get this expression and question. Consent means permission or the agreement to do something. In this case, we’re speaking about sexual consent, where we want permission/agreement to engage in a sexual act.
Popping mollys? What’s wrong with that?
In the depositions, Cosby says that he gave Constand a “benadryl to relax” and admitted to giving quaaludes to women with whom he wanted to have sex.
In this case, neither woman could give have given consent. If a person is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, a person cannot give consent. Even if they tell you that they’d like to engage in a sexual act, it is not valid because the person is not necessarily fully aware of everything that they are agreeing to do.
According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), what Bill Cosby did could be classified as a drug-facilitated sexual assault. This means that alcohol/drugs are used to compromise and person’s ability to consent. “These substances make it easier for a perpetrator to commit sexual assault because they inhibit a person’s ability to resist and can prevent them from remembering the assault”. In sum, a person can’t give consent.
She seemed fine. A person who was raped would’ve been crying.
Let’s go back to the line above. Cosby says, “I walk her out. She does not look angry. She does not say to me, don’t ever do that again. She doesn’t walk out with an attitude of a huff, because I think that I’m a pretty decent reader of people and their emotions in these romantic sexual things, whatever you want to call them”.
This is what grinds my gears. A "lack of screaming and fighting" doesn't indicate that a sexual assault did not occur. This might throw us for a loop, but a lack of a “no”, does not mean a “yes”.
So let’s say that the survivors of Bill Cosby’s sexual violence weren’t under the influence of drugs and alcohol, and they were sober. Bill Cosby could have done a few things. He could have:
Asked. Communication is the biggest and most important aspect when it comes to consent. Asking if the person likes the act, asking them if they feel comfortable, and directly asking them if they want to have sex are ways to gain consent.
On top of communicating. He could have paid attention to their non-verbal cues. Were these women comfortable up to a certain point? Did they withdraw/expressionless at certain points?
To point out that this woman didn’t look angry nor had an attitude is problematic. Survivors of sexual trauma have varied reactions ranging from calm to angry. There isn't one way for a survivor to feel or react after a sexual assault. It’s important to move away from the narrative that the severity of a sexual assault is dependent upon the outward emotions and reactions of a survivor.
This is too much. What isn’t consent?
Consent is not guessing. When Cosby was asked whether Ms. Serignese was in a position to consent to sexual intercourse after he gave her quaaludes in 1976 — he said: “I don’t know.”
Consent is not “sexy” clothes, going on a date, going to someone’s room. None of these are an invitation to or an agreement to having sex. Consent is not silent and it’s not being pressured or guilted into an act either.
She liked it. She was aroused.
When Andrea Constand told her mother what had happened. Bill Cosby told the deposing lawyers, he wanted Ms. Constand to tell her mother “about the orgasm” so that she would realize it was consensual.
So here’s the thing. There’s something called sexual response, which long story short is what happens during sexual stimulation, which in many instances is not voluntary. Arousal of your body does not equate sexual attraction. Arousal during a sexual attack does not mean that the crime was enjoyable or the survivor is asking for it.
Think about it like this. When you jump in the shower and your nipples automatically harden under the water, it does not mean you are sexually attracted to water. It also does not mean that you told your body to react in that way.
So, what can we learn from Cosby?
Well first of all, don’t do anything that Bill Cosby has done. Just don’t. Just no.
But, what I took away from the stomach churning deposition and from watching social media come to a halt over the “great achievements” of Bill Cosby, were a few things:
Believe. We have to believe survivors. You are not Detective Benson, hell you ain’t even a backup cop on CSI. It is not our job to determine if a sexual assault actually occurred or not. What we can do is thank the person who is telling us for trusting us and offering them the support they want. Not all people want to go to the authorities right away or all. Listen. Offer to be there and share resources like this: https://rainn.org/get-help/help-a-loved-one.
Stop victim blaming. We all see you on social media. No seriously. Stop that shit. No one appreciates it and it just further helps our silence around this issue. Why would survivors come forward if you keep blaming for what happened?
Practice Consent. Sometimes is seems hard or even weird to ask someone what they like. But, it’ll be the best thing you could do. Need some pointers? Check this out.