I’ve been thinking about silence a lot lately – not the absence of sound, but the absence of disclosure. The silence we keep after we’ve been violated. The tamping down of the urge to right a wrong, because of a fear of blame the victim mentality. I started thinking about this even before the whole firestorm surrounding Bill Cosby. If you’ve somehow missed it – say you’ve been without internet service for a while (or perhaps living under a rock, because it’s also been in the newspapers) – sixteen women have now come forward claiming that Bill Cosby sexually assaulted them decades ago.
The biggest argument from those in Bill Cosby’s camp is this: Why didn’t these women come forward when the crime was committed? Why did they keep their mouths shut for decades? Surely a secret like that would have to come out somehow – it just couldn’t sit festering for thirty years without seeing the light of day…
Well, actually it could. I’m not saying he’s definitely guilty – I’m neither judge nor jury. I’m just saying that it’s entirely possible that these women kept quiet so many years ago, because to speak up could have very well meant that they would become the pariah – not the perpetrator. There was a prevailing attitude then that the victim had to be proven innocent more than the accused. Was she drinking? Was she dressed provocatively? Did she give any crossed signals? Only if the answer to all of those questions – and sometimes more – was an unequivocal “no,” could the process of finding the true criminal guilty begin. The only women held above this were those raped on a dark street at night by a stranger – but, even then the thought very well may have been, “Well, why was she out by herself on a dark street at night? Shouldn’t she know better?” And, the saddest thing is that these crusty, outdated attitudes still prevail today. How often is someone who is sexually assaulted completely immune to the speculation that she somehow brought it upon herself? Not very often.
And yes, I know all about Affirmative Consent laws that are becoming more of the norm on campuses. I know that under these stringent guidelines a young man – or woman – must receive a clear “yes” before proceeding. No letting things evolve naturally, because you might find yourself accused. But, I’m not entirely convinced that this will change the culture of blame. Plus, if you take away the possibility of crossed signals by requiring an affirmative yes – then does everything else become rape? And is this the solution? I think educating young men to recognize no or even the sometimes subtle signals that equal no might be a better approach. But, I digress…
Back to silence – as I mentioned, I’ve been thinking about it for a while, well before people have been arguing on internet threads and in forums about whether or not a true victim would stay silent for decades. My next novel, Feel No Evil, is about just that – about what happens when the price of silence becomes too great and the allure of revenge beckons. Kate was sexually assaulted in college and two decades later her attacker shows up as someone she may know on Facebook. She realizes that he’s living his life, happy and carefree, while she suffered for years before finally burying the memories as deep as she could in order to get on with her life. Here’s an excerpt from the synopsis:
Kate Brown, a rape survivor, knows that in life there’s “…such a gossamer line between well and unwell, between balanced and on the edge, ready to tumble over the precipice.” She’s worked so hard to leave the past behind her, but seeing her attacker, Vin, decades later as someone she may know on Facebook threatens the “normal” existence Kate has built as a wife and mother.
Kate becomes obsessed with Vin and the crimes she’s convinced he’s committed. There’s the murder of her college friend, among others. As Kate puts the pieces together, her carefully crafted existence unravels. Early on, Kate says, “I work hard to make sure that the sinister thread of darkness woven through the fabric of my existence never wraps itself around my brain again.” (You can read a sneak peek here.)
Do I have anything in common with Kate? Well, I’m not trying to solve decades old murders – but, I’ll leave it at that. I’m a writer – if I shared what’s real and what’s not, it would be like a magician showing the audience exactly how to do a trick. But, I’ll say that I get it. I get why these women have stayed silent for decades, especially when leveling accusations against someone so well known and so loved. The fact that other accusers have been paid off to keep quiet, just makes the whole she’s doing it for the money argument seem ridiculous. If these women were doing it for the money, wouldn’t they have at least tried to get a payday years ago?
They’re not speaking up now in the hopes of a windfall, or even in the hopes of garnering 15 minutes of fame. No, I believe they’re speaking up now, because they think someone will finally believe them. And yet, they’re still being judged and doubted. They’re still being held up for scrutiny as money hungry whores. For as many people who think Bill Cosby should rot in a prison cell for his heinous crimes, there are just as many who believe these women should be burned at the stake, ground up in the media frenzy and spit out a shell of themselves.
Is it possible that all these women are making it up? Is it possible that they read the descriptions of the other alleged assaults and said, “Hey, I see an opportunity here!” and crafted an eerily similar tale? Of course it’s possible – anything is possible. But, is it likely? Not at all…