Beverly Johnson Is the Latest Bill Cosby Accuser. Are You Ready to Believe Women's Stories Now?

Perhaps the most difficult thing for anyone who ever revered Bill Cosby – and there are many of us – to grasp is the idea that the man who occupied a shining place in the firmament of our childhood heroes could have done anything remotely vile, much less (as he’s been repeatedly accused) drugged and raped a series of women.

And yet here we stand, all of us – you and me and everyone we know – with varying degrees of familiarity with and allegiance to the myth of the pure Dr Huxtable, or the funny TV host, or the groundbreaking actor, or the wise Doctor of Education, or the slyly mischievous comedian, or, hell, as supermodel Beverly Johnson says, “the Jell-O Pudding man”.

So it wasn’t surprising that, when Johnson alleged yesterday that Bill Cosby had drugged her, in a story eerily similar those of all the other women who have publicly accused him, that there were people who automatically refused to believe her.

And I can certainly understand –not agree with, not accept, but understand – someone doubting the truth of one particular allegation against a celebrity they feel like they know, especially when we’re essentially programmed to doubt rape victims’ stories if those stories involve “respected” individuals. But two, three, four, five, 17?

At what point do people stop denying the heat, the smoke and the shouts of burning victims before finally acknowledging that, yes, there is a fire here? 

For writer and VH1 reality star JasFly that point was today: she wrote that, until she heard Johnson’s tale, “I just wasn’t letting the Cosby story in.”

There is a kind of strange, desperate hysteria attached to the notion that Cosby must be completely and totally innocent of all these accusations; that not one of these diverse, unrelated women is telling the truth; that these individuals have somehow joined together in a mass conspiracy perpetuated by the media against Cosby himself; that it is Cosby who is being unfairly persecuted and not the women who have been alternately mocked, ignored, and asked absurd questions about their stories. I have read people argue that the statute of limitations is up on all these alleged assaults, so they don’t matter – as if the results, or lack thereof, of our woefully flawed justice system were suddenly sacrosanct. As if the lack of a criminal conviction means that, if Cosby remains protected from standing trial, there’s no reason to speak about what he did, or believe those who do. As if we don’t all know that the rich and powerful have traditionally enjoyed a different measure of justice from our system.

Cosby has never been charged with a crime, and he might never be charged with a crime. Through his lawyers, he has consistently denied the allegations. But Johnson says (and many believe her) that Cosby “decided he had the right to have his way with who knows how many women over the last four decades.”

Cosby’s defenders stand to lose the illusion of our collective childhood hero, the great and powerful Dr. William Henry “Bill” Cosby, Jr. But, all of us stand to lose far more than that: faith in the stories that women tell, and not just about the bad things that are done to us. When we commit to the practice of disbelief in the witness and testimony of women and girls, we devalue their worth as human beings. When one accuser is easily dismissed and the next one is simply a copycat and the third one an opportunist and so on and so forth, when we create a world in which all the women who tell these stories are frauds, hucksters, con artists because that’s what women do, we create a world in which truth is a male domain.

But considering the enormous horror and shame associated with reporting rape in our culture, it is foolish to assume that the vast majority of accusers would lie about rape on a whim, out of the desire for money or fame or even infamy, as though holding oneself up for public ridicule and embarrassment is something one does on a lark. It is one way to gain attention – but then, so is throwing oneself in the path of a charging bull. Neither choice is particularly attractive. 

I cannot say that Bill Cosby is guilty, because I do not know if he is guilty. And I cannot say that he committed any crime, because I do not know if he committed any crime. But I can say to Beverly Johnson, as I have said to my friends who’ve told me of their rapes, “I believe you.” 

So can you.

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