When the Boogeyman Actually Lives in Your Bed
In the past few months, two beloved television dads have been accused of rape and molestation against children and young women.
Stephen Collins, who played a minister and father of five on the show Seventh Heaven, was investigated for child molestation after a tape was released of him admitting that he exposed himself to underage girls several years prior (Oldenburg, 2014).
A few short weeks after the release of this tape, comedian Hannibal Burress reminded his Philadelphia audience during a show of the multiple rape allegations against the iconic comedian Bill Cosby. Burress’ standup routine went viral, causing the decade-long rape accusations to be reexamined and Cosby himself to be reinvestigated (Giles & Jones, 2015).
The investigations of these two adored television dads left many (myself included) angry, confused, and grasping for some shred of evidence to debunk these allegations and uphold the squeaky-clean image that both men hold in pop culture and our childhoods.
However, no such evidence has been indicated yet to clear their names, and the general public is left with the awkward realization that these TV dads are not who we thought they were.
The discomfort, confusion, and awkwardness that I share with the rest of America who grew up watching and loving these men is just a small microcosm of the confusing emotions that children who are mistreated feel everyday when they are hurt and abused by someone they trust, know, and love. It’s tempting to discredit stories like those of the 24 women who have accused Cosby of rape so far. It is inviting to believe that those who hurt children and other vulnerable people are easy to recognize based on their socioeconomic status and appearance. But the facts tell a different story.
The truth is that 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys will be sexually abused during their childhood in the United States. Of those who are abused, 90% know their abuser and 68% are abused by someone in their family. Being a sexual perpetrator does not lend itself to a certain type of person, relationship, appearance, or temperament.
The tendency to discredit a victim’s story when it clashes with our preconceived opinions of a person creates a difficult narrative for our culture. It creates the idea that perpetrators look a certain way. Those who do not fit the prototype we have for sexual perpetrators are then easily believed and forgiven if allegations arise against them. This is an aspect of rape culture that I am personally tired of.
This is why I found Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s joke about Bill Cosby at the Golden Globes so refreshing:
Yes, making a joke about rape and sexual violence is almost always in poor taste. However, I suspect Fey and Poehler were doing something more profound. Cosby has been able to silence and dismiss his victims for so long because of his squeaky-clean image. He has been known to make jokes about his accusers in his shows to point out how ludicrous it is that he, Bill Cosby, the guy who loves children, played a TV dad, and was a spokesperson for JELLO, could be capable of raping someone. His audiences almost always laugh when he makes such jokes denouncing his victims.
What Fey and Poehler attempted to do was debunk his resilient, wholesome image by incorporating the rape joke into his famous JELLO pudding one-liners. Now when people hear Cosby’s infamous JELLO commercials, they will most likely also hear Fey and Poehler’s rape bit. They have allowed others to experience the dissonance of Cosby’s dualism with their very public joke. My suspicion is that their joke was an attempt to attack and dismantle an aspect of rape culture that has protected Bill Cosby for a long time.
The truth is, people who look good are capable of doing bad things. Sure, there is a chance that Cosby and Collins are innocent of the allegations they are facing (though the evidence seems to be quickly stacking against them). However, abruptly dismissing someone’s story of abuse because the perpetrator does not fit our prototype is harmful, unfair, and contributes to a culture that devalues and silences victims.
Remember: being victimized is not a choice for the victim. And it certainly is not a choice for an innocent child. If you suspect someone is being abused, act and respond. There is support and help.
If you are unsure of where to start, contact me. I would be happy to assist and steer you in the right direction. Please do not be a contributor to rape culture. Victims need voices that others will believe.
Giles, M. & Jones, N. (2015). A timeline of the abuse charges against Bill Cosby. Vulture. Retrieved from http://www.vulture.com/2014/09/timeline-of-the-abuse-charges-against-cosby.html.
Oldenburg, A. (2014). Fallout continues for ‘7th Heaven’ star Stephen Collins. USA Today. Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/people/2014/10/07/stephen-collins-child-molestation-tmz-7th-heaven/16846839.