I will never forget the rape or “put it into perspective.” I have had nightmares regularly since. I still startle at home over the most trivial of surprises. At Bill Cosby’s sentencing, I had no feelings whatsoever, neither fear, anxiety nor hope. I just crossed my fingers that justice would be served. I was mentally fatigued. Many of the victims told me they felt the same.
I saw Cosby laughing at trial while I testified, and then again at his sentencing. At the recess just before the announcement of the long-awaited sentence, I saw him look at me. I let out an explosive emotional laugh. While other victims wept, I laughed and said, “Who’s laughing now?” After the final sentence and after the defense tried several other moves, it was over, and I was relieved that Judge Steven O’Neil had fairly considered the evidence and made the right decision to put him away in state prison, where he cannot ruin any other woman’s life. The justice system had done its job. That’s a relief, and I felt better, but it does not undo the damage. Just then, Cosby’s team called me a liar (again), and the creepy feelings of being a victim started back, like the tide coming in.
Why do we not report immediately? Men have no idea of the toll an assault takes. I, we, get afraid, feel so emotional that it can be hard to think, even though the attack is etched in our brain. Take a look at the Senate hearings. Years ago and surprisingly, even now, victims are intimidated. Intimidated because we know we will be shamed and called a liar or a slut, that we will get hate mail and threats, that telling a new boyfriend will probably end that relationship, that our children and family will look at us differently, and maybe they won’t love us, and that we will be labeled.
Others will use our reporting to define us wherever we go and whatever we do. And, we just might be sued if we can’t prove the truth. We have already been devastated, and we know all these consequences. We will be hurt more if we talk. As we have seen, others will go out of their way to cause us pain again. The pain of the assault is real. This causes a permanent distortion in how we view life, whether it’s love, friends, work, children or any expectations, because we can no longer trust anything as we once did.
What to do? How to come out and not suffer more? I found that although you can never be proud of being assaulted, you can be proud of coming out. Then perhaps you lose the shame. I found that I was somewhat better after coming out. Family and friends believed me and were understanding and supportive. I didn’t realize I had been avoiding so many things in life. But, if a victim thinks she will be worse off for coming out, then she need not feel ashamed about that. We are supportive of all of our sisters.
“I found that although you can never be proud of being assaulted, you can be proud of coming out. Then perhaps you lose the shame.”
There seem to be a lot of men, whether high or low on the social scale, who have assaulted women in their past. They seem to think either that nothing really wrong was done or that as time passes they get a free pass or can forget about it (or all three). Some say that since it was long ago, and that the man has then led a “good” life (maybe), that he should get a pass. Some say “it’s not fair” to bring up a sexual assault from years ago that could damage the man now that he has been caught at last. Yes, the truth hurts. Isn’t it hypocritical that those who are religious can do this? They of all people should know that on Judgment Day, you don’t get a pass just because you “hid” your sins.
Pure and simple, you never get a pass. If you did, then you should plan on never having a high-visibility career, whether in entertainment, politics or otherwise. We women now will be coming out and will find you, statute of limitations or not. And why is there a statute of limitations really? These laws were written by men, and these laws send the message that if time passes, then the woman is not telling the truth, so the man can get a pass. At the same time, they send a message that the woman’s story, whether recent or delayed, is questionable. A “pass” signals to our daughters and sons that this country really doesn’t care about women and that only men can ultimately be trusted to tell the truth.
We focus on the man who assaults, however, as we see in the Senate hearings, where many other men chime in on his side. They are counting on you being intimidated by victim shaming. These men are cowards and are complicit in the assaulter’s crimes. This is really a crime too, victimizing not only the woman but also her family and friends. Those complicit do not get a pass either. The women in their lives need to stand up and honestly confront them.
I especially ask that all mothers and sisters have a “talk” with their sons about boundaries with females, telling them it is no excuse to be rich, drunk or high. Men seem not to know when they must stop, and many are too chicken to ask for consent. So they assault. Don’t do it, don’t say it and don’t even think it. They need to be told how to ask a woman.
Janice Dickinson is a model, author, photographer and reality TV star. She is among five women who testified at Cosby’s trial that she, too, had been drugged and sexually assaulted by the actor.