Following the news of Cosby’s release, I was speaking with a friend about our experiences as survivors of sexual assault. Neither of us pressed charges, though I tried and was dissuaded by law enforcement, having been told it would be “a case of she said, he said,” and that I would regret the public notoriety of having to go to court in our small community. I was young at the time, and many times since then I have looked back and wished that I’d had the strength that I do now, to demand justice.
I don’t know if I’d feel differently today if I had pressed charges. I spent a few years trying to numb myself, and it took years for me to establish a healthy sense of intimacy and self-awareness. After finding a good therapist (spoiler: not all therapists are equally equipped to deal with SA, find yourself one who specializes in dealing with this sort of trauma), I worked really hard to heal myself, to not blame myself and to feel whole again, and I am incredibly proud of the work I have done to get to where I am today.
But I don’t know how things would have played out had I pressed charges. I might have felt a sense of righteousness, to see transgressions punished and autonomy recognized. Or it might have been “a case of she said, he said” after all. It could even have been a case of “she said, he confessed, and still he walks free,” just like Cosby.
We like to imagine ourselves a just society, and I’ve heard several people decrying how “the system has failed women,” but I disagree. The system was never meant to work for us. It doesn’t work for us when we are victimized by men who were told— either overtly or tacitly, through a million small moments—that their wants are greater than our own. It doesn’t work for us when we try to press charges and the police ask us if we tried hard enough to fight back. It doesn’t work for us even when men admit they drugged women to assault them, and still they have their conviction overturned.
I cannot imagine the depth of the pain felt by Cosby’s many victims, seeing him walk free. But I am intimately familiar with the pain of living in a culture that frequently reminds us that we are less than, and my heart aches knowing that even fewer survivors will come forward, having seen what “justice” looks like in America. Already, RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) reports that approximately 70% of assaults go unreported, with only about 16% of those reported cases being prosecuted.
I think about that small number, a percentage of a percentage, and I am filled with anger and sorrow. These are the times that I talk too loudly about either completely dropping out of society or literally burning down the bastions of the patriarchy, one molotov cocktail at a time. But I’ve also learned that this state of being is not sustainable, for me at least, and so I try— try to support other survivors, try to educate through sharing my voice, try to make a difference, even a small one.
For the month of July, 5% of all HWB profits will be donated to RAINN. May our resilience ignite a revolution.
With love & magic,
P.S. As some may know, my undergraduate degree was in art history with a focus on gender studies, and this is one of my all-time favorite Baroque paintings, Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith Slaying Holofernes (c. 1620-1621). Gentileschi famously included her rapist’s face in her depiction of this Biblical story, making her an OG of the #MeToo movement.