I know that the nuns who had custody of my conscience for 12 long years will be hanging their heads about this, but I’ve come to the conclusion that you can actually be too compassionate. While it’s always good to reach out to the suffering, there are times when you have to say, “Sorry, but you waited too long. I can’t help you now.”
That’s how I feel about the women who are coming out and accusing Bill Cosby of raping them decades ago. I know that most of the ladies are doing it to make themselves feel better and neutralize the shame they say he caused them to carry through their teen years and into adulthood, but the regurgitated revelations have been picked up by people who advocate for abolishing statutes of limitations.
The thinking in this goes that statutes that prevent putative victims from making accusations against their alleged abusers if they don’t file them in a timely manner are just another way of victimizing the innocent, and don’t take into consideration the psychological trauma experienced by a person who has been raped.
I get that. Clearly, not everyone has the ability to transcend their own pain, uncurl from the fetal position and raise their defiant voices to say “J'accuse!” It would be a much better world if society welcomed the testimony of victims, particularly children, and believed their claims of persecution and abuse.
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But just because we don’t live in that utopia, we don’t then get the right to trash our venerable tradition of due process and simply eliminate the protections against false accusations or faulty memories. Exposing anyone to a lifetime of liability because we feel sorry for a woman who says she was ashamed to tell that sordid tale of date rape, or a man who only found the courage to admit he’d been sexually violated in the sacristy 30 years after the fact, is as fundamentally un-American as you can get.
I know that this will not make me a lot of fans. I raised the issue on my Facebook page earlier this week, and while some of my virtual friends agreed that decades-old allegations are untrustworthy, many others believed that we need to give women the benefit of the doubt. I say “women,” because I didn’t touch on the child abuse scandal, which is a special variant of the topic with its own complications. I’m also pretty certain that my critics don’t think men should be afforded the same tolerance, because many of those who responded to my post talked about how women were traditionally discouraged from speaking out about rape. In point of fact, it’s actually been harder for men because of the stigma society attaches to male victims of sexual abuse, but we are all somehow conditioned to believe that women have a harder time of it.
I’ve studied the claims of the women who say they were drugged by Cosby and then raped, and they all seem to follow a pattern: The women were either interns or mentored by the actor, went to his room to discuss some project, had a drink (or several) and then woke up after he’d allegedly attacked them. They sound so similar that I’m reminded of the McMartin preschool case where children were coached to tell the sordid tales of being raped by their teachers.
That story, which never gets the attention it deserves, turned out to be false. Lives were destroyed by opportunistic psychologists, parents who were naive enough to believe them, and a flock of media vultures who fed on the carcass of manipulation and lies.
I’m not sure whether Cosby is innocent of having extracurricular sex, and it’s quite possible that he did take advantage of his position. Even so, we have an obligation to tell these women that they waited too long for their day of reckoning.
Compassion is a good thing, but it needs to be evenly applied. Sometimes, the people that we are naturally inclined to view as victims bear some responsibility for their injuries, and it’s neither sinful nor heartless to say that. If we tell them it’s OK to wait lifetimes to speak out about what they think happened to them, we are showing no compassion to the targets of their anger.
The thing that angers me the most about this whole situation with Cosby is the mean-spirited, vengeful way the story is being trotted out yet again like some B-movie zombie that refuses to die. It’s been a nonstory for a decade, and it seems to pop up periodically when Temple’s pride and joy has a project or is railing against the “gangsta” culture. His detractors know they can’t get to him legally, so they want to destroy what Shakespeare’s Cassio called “the eternal part of myself,” his reputation.
For that reason alone, I have no compassion for these women and their cobwebbed, aged stories. Enough.
Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer and columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News.
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