Today in Not Helping

[Content Note: Rape culture; hostility to consent; descriptions of sexual assault at link.]

RAINN, which bills itself as "the nation's largest anti-sexual assault organization," has been really disappointing recently—see here and here for examples—and I am deeply troubled by this interview at Think Progress with RAINN's founder and president Scott Berkowitz, who was asked to comment on the rape allegations against Bill Cosby.

There are a number of comments that I found less than optimal, especially in Berkowitz's willingness to indulge the idea that there are some victims who don't need believing, but these comments were particularly odious:
Think Progress: Given the volume of the allegations, the specificity of the accounts, the similarities among all these women's stories, everything we know about how rape typically occurs, and, especially, the fact that these women no longer have any legal recourse, why do you think people don't believe these assaults really happened? Are people blinded by love of Bill Cosby?

Berkowitz: You know, I think that he's well-loved. And it's always hard to hear bad things about someone you admire. And he's been such a part of American culture for decades. When I first read about allegations years ago, my first reaction was, "God, I hope it's not true." But the number of accusations, and the similarities in stories really create a lot of circumstantial evidence. So I'd really love to see some good investigative reporters try and dig into it more and see, if there are other victims out there, if they can shed any more light.
Even giving Berkowitz the most favorable interpretation of "God, I hope it's not true"—i.e. that he was hoping women hadn't been assaulted as opposed to hoping a man he liked didn't disappoint him by being a rapist—he's necessarily saying, "God, I hope these women are lying."

I know, I know, that's not what he's intending to say—but it is nonetheless implicit in saying "I hope it's not true that Bill Cosby raped someone." There's no way for rape allegations to be made and for them to not be true, unless the allegations have been invented.

Given the ubiquity of the fallacy that women routinely invent rape allegations, especially against famous men, that's not a narrative that the president of "the nation's largest anti-sexual assault organization" should be peddling. Even inadvertently.

And I'm frankly not so convinced about how inadvertent it was, considering Berkowitz also notes he was convinced of the veracity of the allegations made against Cosby in part by "the fact that they are doing this, they're coming forward, not for, apparently, not for self-interest, but to try and alert the public, to try and sway public opinion."

As opposed to those women who do come forward for self-interest. Ahem.

Which is only the first part of the problem with the above-quoted response, because Berkowitz of course goes on to say he hopes that investigative reporters "dig into it more" to see "if there are other victims out there."

No. No they should not.

Journalists should absolutely listen to and believe other victims who share their stories, and vigorously report those stories with the victims' consent.

But—and this is more than mere semantics—journalists should not go "digging" to find victims who have not made their stories public. The women who have made their stories public have been subjected to all manner of harassment and abuse, and that is something that they made a calculated decision to weather by going public. Again and again.

Trying to find victims and expose them under the auspices of "shedding light" stands to revictimize women who don't want to stand in that spotlight.

Listen to victims who come forward is good advice. Pursue victims who have not come forward is not good advice. And it's a distinction that the president of an anti-rape advocacy organization should keenly understand.

Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus