Outside the “Rapist Box”: Bill Cosby, Woody Allen, and my Father

There’s been a lot of hype all over the internet lately about Bill Cosby and his alleged crimes.  This post is not about the question of whether or not he committed them.  If he did, it is tragic.  If he didn’t, the accusations against him are tragic.  Either way, it affects a specific group of people, and none of them are me, which probably makes it none of my business.

What I am interested in is the cultural response to the story.  Over and over I have seen people wondering whether it’s still okay to love The Cosby Show, or to laugh at Cosby’s stand-up jokes.  It seems that, if Cosby is a rapist, it casts a pall over everything he has ever produced, and has every chance of ending his career.  “Did it have to be Cliff Huxtable?” asks one article, while another asserts that “these revelations cast America’s once-favorite sitcom dad in terrible light.”  Netflix, TV Land, and NBC all jumped the sinking Cosby ship within a matter of days, canceling shows or pulling reruns.  Theaters began canceling his upcoming appearances.  “Run away,” says the mainstream media, “we don’t want to be seen to associate with an accused rapist!

It reminds me very much of the reactions early this year when the accusations against Woody Allen took center stage.  People who loved his movies suddenly seemed to be ashamed of that love, or to feel the need to never watch them again.  In fact, a personal appeal from the alleged victim, Dylan Farrow, asked for exactly that: for people to stop celebrating Woody Allen’s films.  It’s as if the overall cultural response is to say, “Well, if someone is a rapist, that means nothing they’ve ever done can be enjoyed or celebrated, because that would be supporting them, and supporting them is the same thing as supporting rape, and we certainly don’t support rape.”

Again, I’m not interested in arguing about whether any of these allegations are true or not.  There are plenty of articles out there arguing both sides of all these stories.  I am interested, primarily, in the cultural response to the phenomenon of rape. 

My interest in this issue stems from my own personal history.  Those of you who have read certain previous posts on this blog know that I spent my childhood experiencing incest at the hands of my father.  Those of you who have read my memoir know that this allegation on my part is a hotly contested issue, denied by both my father and the rest of my immediate family of origin.  See, my father – much like Bill Cosby and Woody Allen, doesn’t “look like” a rapist.  He’s a nice guy.  He’s friendly, and charming, and funny.  And on top of all that, he’s a Christian Missionary, deeply devoted to his faith, who has had a positive impact on the world in many ways – spending years flying an airplane into remote jungle villages to bring medically emergent patients to hospitals.

Dylan Farrow asked the world to stop celebrating Woody Allen’s career: “So imagine your seven-year-old daughter being led into an attic by Woody Allen. Imagine she spends a lifetime stricken with nausea at the mention of his name. Imagine a world that celebrates her tormentor. Are you imagining that? Now, what’s your favorite Woody Allen movie?”  The plea makes sense to me.  I know how painful it is, to be reminded of one’s abuser, to stand witness to them being adored.  I remember the terror, the panic attacks, the nightmares that I would have after reading my family’s newsletter, or hearing from my grandmother about their latest visit.

I used to get so angry at my grandmother, when she would invite my father into her home.  How could she continue to welcome him, after I told her what he’d done?  It felt like betrayal, like she was siding with him.  Eventually I asked her not to tell me, anymore. 

I used to have this fantasy of sending a letter around to the churches that support my father’s missionary work, detailing the abuse (graphically) and shocking them into “seeing who he really was” and ending their financial contributions.  I couldn’t stand the idea that the whole world thought well of someone who had shattered my life, and left me with wounds I thought would never heal.

Only, the wounds did heal.  Not quickly.  Not easily.  It took work, and dedication, and my scars will always show what I lived through.  But eventually, I healed.  And in my healing, I realized that my longing to vilify my abuser in the eyes of the world was a manifestation of my woundedness.  It was a broken part of me, wanting to break something in return.  It was a part of me that felt invisible, wanting to demand attention and recognition.

Now, from the place of healing, from a place of wholeness, it no longer bothers me that my grandmother loves my father.  It no longer bothers me that churches across the country hold him up as an example of godliness, and send financial contributions to his work.  Because I can see, now, that what he did to me doesn’t make his work in the world any less valuable.

Now, if I was worried that he was still perpetrating these crimes, it would be another story.  I wouldn’t have the peace I do now.  But I made my splash – I made my noise – and I believe there’s no way he could get away with it now.  Even though my family of origin doesn’t believe my story, some part of them is on alert, now.  And so I am convinced that, currently, he is having a positive impact on the world.  He goes to church.  He pays his bills.  And he works to make the world a better place.  Why shouldn’t that be supported, or celebrated?   

Bill Cosby is in his 70’s.  To my knowledge, no one has come forward saying “he raped me last week.”  The allegations are all about old crimes.  And if he’s not currently committing crimes, why should his appearances be cancelled? What’s more, if the allegations are true, why does that have an impact on our memories of “The Cosby Show”?  Cliff Huxtable was a great character.  Is that any less true, if the actor who played him was committing rape?  Woody Allen is an award-winning director.  Does it make his movies less brilliant if he molested a child?

What I’ve read on the internet seems to indicate that it does matter.  That if Bill Cosby is a rapist, Cliff Huxtable is no longer a great character.  That if Woody Allen molested Dylan Farrow, he shouldn’t be given awards for his movies.  That committing a sexual crime casts a pall over everything else a person ever has done or ever will do over the course of his or her life.  This jump from “a person committed rape” to “that person is a rapist and their every action is tainted” speaks to a phenomenon I’ve become more and more aware of over the course of the past year: the “othering” of rapists.

Imagine with me, a scenario in which you are handed the files of two criminals.  One of them got into a drunk driving accident and killed a family of 4.  The other one raped his daughter throughout her childhood.  You are given the task of choosing one of these criminals to be pardoned, while the other one will be executed.  What do you choose?

Leaving aside the fact that this is a gods awful choice that no one should ever have to make, and also leaving aside the unlikelihood that you or I would ever be faced with such a choice (c’mon, willing suspension of disbelief, here!), really think about it for a minute.

My gut reaction would be to pardon the drunk driver, and execute the rapist.  And I’d bet good money that your initial reaction is the same as mine.  Why?  Why does drunk driving that kills seem more palatable than incest?  The victim of the incest is probably very psychologically damaged; he or she would probably have to work very hard to heal and move into wholeness…but at least it’s still a possibility.  That family of four, on the other hand, has no road to healing — they are dead.  It’s final.

Here’s what I think:  I can imagine myself as that drunk driver.  I can picture it – I’m over at a friend’s place, drinking wine and watching a movie, and I have a few more glasses than I should.  I don’t realize how tipsy I am until I’m already behind the wheel, and I think “Oh, I’m not going far.  It’ll be fine.”  And then suddenly a whole family is dead, and it’s my fault.  It doesn’t seem likely that this would happen in my life – I tend to be a very responsible about my alcohol consumption in general, and even more so when I know I have to get behind the wheel…but it’s not outside the realm of possibility.  Raping someone, on the other hand, especially a child, takes a lot more work for me to imagine myself doing.

Is that because I’m less likely to be a rapist than a drunk driver?  I’m not so sure — I really don’t think I’m likely to become either.  I think, rather, it’s because for some reason, it’s easier to look at the drunk driver and say “this could have been a good person who made a mistake,” than it is to say the same thing about the rapist.  Because if rapists could be “good people,” then it gets really hard to put them in a box far, far away from the rest of us…a box marked “evil.”

Look, I am in no way saying that rape doesn’t matter.  Of course it matters.  It matters immensely.  Dylan Farrow’s story of PTSD, of an eating disorder, of cutting…it breaks my heart.  Not only that, but it is achingly familiar.  I know firsthand how much it matters.  The immense pain and suffering that sexual abuse caused in my life cannot be denied – the PTSD.  The cutting.  The suicide attempts.  The inability for many years to maintain healthy relationships.  I could, and have, spent hundreds of pages talking about how deeply I was affected, not only by the incest itself, but by my family and community’s insistence on holding my father up as a paragon of virtue.  I understand the loneliness that comes from feeling like the only one who can see the “true” “bad” man behind the “good” image.

Of course rape matters.  It matters immensely.  I would never deny the impact, the pain, the terror or the grueling journey back into wholeness that results from rape.  But I am here to say the words that I have fought long and hard to understand, the words that still feel controversial to share: committing rape isn’t the only thing that matters about the person who committed it.  Life isn’t so simple, and humans aren’t so one-sided.

What my father did doesn’t make him evil.  It doesn’t negate all the times that he was a good father – the sweet moments we had when he’d make popcorn for the family on a sunday night, or teach me how to do things like use a soldering iron or play FreeCell.  It doesn’t negate all the lives he saved, flying medical emergencies out of tiny jungle villages in a bitty-little airplane…people that would not otherwise have been able to reach the hospital in time.  All of the reasons that people have to doubt my accusation — all of the things that make my family of origin hold him up as a good man and a good father — they all hold true.  And none of them are any less true because he raped me.  The sweet moments we shared aren’t any less sweet.  The lives he saved aren’t any less alive.  Being a rapist doesn’t taint everything he has ever done in his life.

If Woody Allen molested Dylan Farrow, as she claims, it is a tragedy.  And it doesn’t make him any less of a brilliant director.  It doesn’t mean he shouldn’t win awards, or that people shouldn’t watch his movies.  And if Bill Cosby raped all those women who are accusing him, it is a tragedy.  And it doesn’t make the Cosby Show any less lovable.  It doesn’t mean that Bill Huxtable wasn’t a wonderful character that made us laugh and cry, and taught us all so much.

Rape is a tragedy.  It is always a tragedy.  And it has a terrible impact.  But I don’t believe that it’s an entire identity…that it needs to taint every action in a person’s life – either the victim or the perpetrator – unless we let it.

I think you have to go a little bit crazy, to rape somebody.  And I think that’s why we are so afraid of it, why we need to draw a box around “the kind of person that could rape somebody” and mark it “evil” and mark it “other – not me”.  Because we, as a species, are afraid of our own crazy.  Insanity is something we can’t predict or control.  It’s something we can’t protect ourselves from.  And that terrifies us, and so we cast it away.  We don’t want to think that a “good person” could be a rapist, because that means that you or I could somehow go that crazy, be that person, commit that unthinkable crime.  We want the rapist to be someone else, someone inherently bad, someone we could never become.  We want that kind of madness to stay far away from us, and so we slap a label on it and point to it and call it “bad.”  The very fact that we have an idea of “what a rapist looks like” proves my point, even as Bill Cosby, Woody Allen, and my missionary father defy that stereotype.

We forget, in this process of “othering,” the principle of psychological projection: that everything we see in the world is a reflection of ourselves.

I think that everyone has the potential to go crazy.  I think that everyone has the potential to kill or to rape.  And I think that scares us.  It’s certainly not a comfortable notion, this idea that I have within me the capability to lose control and harm or even kill another human being.  It’s not who I know myself to be.  I love peace.  I practice non-violence.  I believe in love, and balance, and hugging trees.  And I am a human, a member of a species that makes war against itself, a member of a species in which murder happens, and rape happens.  I am not different from the other humans, and the humans who rape and murder are not different from me, no matter how much I try to tell that story; to put them in a box marked “other”.

I think it’s dangerous, to put any humans in their entirety, including rapists, in a box and mark it “bad”.  I think it shows a refusal in us to take ownership of our own potential for crazy.  I’m not saying we’re all rapists…I’m saying that rape is an action, not an identity, and that we all have the potential to commit crimes we would never dream ourselves capable of.  And I think it’s important to hold that potential consciously, because it’s the things you shove behind you that tend to sneak up and bite you on the ass.  I think that by denying our own crazy, by denying our own potential to rape or kill, we put ourselves in more danger of doing exactly that. I think the best way to avoid losing control is to take a good hard look in the mirror, and recognize that it’s possible that you and I and those we hold dearest are just as capable of rape and murder as anyone else.

So I choose not to draw a box around people who have committed rape, and call everything they’ve ever done, “bad”.  I choose not to start hating The Cosby Show, and not to start hating Bill Cosby.  I choose not to vilify Woody Allen.  And I choose not to hate my father.  Instead, I’m going to use all the energy that I would be pouring into that hatred, to work to bring more consciousness to my own being, to the ways that violence lives in me.  It’s true that I’ve never raped, and never murdered.  But I’ve betrayed a confidence.  I’ve said something malicious about another being.  I’ve taken things that don’t belong to me.

In the end, I don’t think it’s for me to point fingers at anyone for anything they’ve done.  In the end, I don’t think it’s mine to judge someone’s entire life based on one aspect of that life.  In the end, I think all I can do is define my own values, and work to live in integrity with them.  I choose to value consciousness.  I choose to value embodiment.  I choose to value non-violence.  And I choose to look in the mirror, long and hard and often, and bring my behavior more into alignment with my own values.  Because my own behavior, unlike the behavior of others, is something I can change.

So the next time you see an article about Bill Cosby, or Woody Allen, or whoever is next, what will you choose?  Will you draw a box around them, call them “other”, and turn away from things you used to love?  Or will you use it as a reminder to look in the mirror, and check in with your own integrity?

39 thoughts on “Outside the “Rapist Box”: Bill Cosby, Woody Allen, and my Father

  1. I will do both. anything done by WA or BC or anyone else who has ever perpetrated a violent/sexual crime at this point is forever tainted and should be – or we risk condoning their actions as only a “part of who they are.” Such actions are the total of who they are…the decisions they made demonstrated a deplorable state of mind and lack of any value for anyone else but themselves…the ultimate selfish act. but the fact that someone we once looked up to and adored could also perpetrated such harm should also cause us to look in the mirror and check our own integrity – be more aware of how are attitudes, actions, affections impact those around us. and remember that but for the grace of God there go I… I once had a pastor who perpetrated a dark evil thing…no one could ever imagine him doing what he was accused of and most still refuse to believe it possible. But then he did more and now he will never again serve as a pastor. I grieved with his wife, with his family, with my church, AND with my friends who suffered as a result of his actions…and yes, I even grieved with him. Because he is human like me, because he is a sinner like me, because he was a broken man and who forever tainted all that he had touched by what he did. HE tainted it…not culture…not society by its morals and rules. I can understand how you love your father and hold dear the good times, the sweet times…I still love that pastor whom I was very close to at the time things came to light. but he is still what he is and accepts that he is no longer qualified to serve in ministry – especially a pastoral capacity. as for your father – the fact that he is unrepentantly still actively serving in a ministerial capacity is far more telling of the sickness, ignorance of sin (and its cost) and of the depravity of our society and culture as well as destruction of families than is the vilification of sexual deviants as a cultural norm. you do the right thing by focusing on your own healing, your own mark on this world…you cannot control what he has done or will do…but your light can outshine the darkness of the taint he leaves behind. shine on!

    • Thank you for reading, and for commenting, Anita. Respectfully, I choose to disagree – I do think that rape is just part of who someone is, not all of who they are. I don’t think BC or WA’s work is tainted. As far as the situation you’ve shared, I think that if the pastor is truly remorseful, and works to change, that he could again serve in ministry, even as a pastor: what a testament to grace that would be! I think that grace is infinite, that people can change, and that only by allowing space for people to change can we, as a world, evolve into more wholeness. That said, you are certainly entitled to your viewpoint, and to your expression of it, and I am grateful you took the time to engage with my post.

  2. I know your father. What I’m struck with it that your father, BC and WA have done work that has been celebrated. Those works are of quality. However, I choose not to celebrate them or their work. I feel a need to stand with (support) the abused in anyway I know how, however little it may be. “Your perpetrations are *not* right rapist. I will not support you.” I admit I feel a strong need for the rapist to be remorseful and ask for forgiveness because I do not trust that they will do it (or inflict some kind of pain using their power) again. I long for the rapists to heal. “Only until then can you, rapist, join us and I will support you, too.” I do not trust them. This is my value.

    • I understand and respect your choice, here. I make a different choice – I say, I do not support rape, but I do support my fellow humans. I choose to see those who rape as more than rapists…as people, who are striving to love and be loved in this world. I don’t celebrate the rape, but I do celebrate the art, the humor, the good work. I don’t trust that they won’t do harm again, but I don’t trust any human not to harm another, because I think we all have the same capacity for violence. And that is my basic point. Of course, I too, long for them to heal, just as I long for all of us to heal. But I can’t point at them and judge them as “worse” than myself, because I am not them, and therefore can’t fully understand them. Who am I to judge better or worse? “We are all walking each other home.” All of us. Even the ones I would tend to judge, to call “bad”, to call “other”. I truly believe that there is no such thing as other. Thank you so much for reading and for sharing your response.

    • It’s also quite possible that there’s a genetic component to this… that this is how these people are wired. Statistically, the recidivism amongst rapists and child abusers is very high. What is the nature of the individual in question? Yes, maybe they’ve bifurcated their persona, but if they’ve had significant public success, the public is complicit in funding the behavior of the hidden persona. Cosby was able to do what he did, in great part, because he had a team of people enabling him, and was financially successful enough to pay people off at various junctures. It sounds like your father also cashed in on the public persona he’d created to mask his other behavior. Forgiveness is a beautiful thing and you’re right that our deep disdain for this behavior is probably an extension of our fear that we may do the same thing. But, that is a healthy fear, and we do have to have rules about how people behave in our environment. Would you say the same thing about a serial murderer , who had been imprisoning victims for years on end? That we need to realize there are other things that the serial murderer did that are valuable? Maybe there were. That’s not the point. He (forgive the sexism, but it’s almost always a “he”), can no longer be in our society, and any good things he’s accomplished are tainted by the behavior of his hidden persona. Supporting his “respectable” activities, is necessarily defending his reprehensible activities.

      • Ok, let me play with your example for a moment and see where I end up. 🙂 Let’s take a serial murderer, and say he (since we’ve gendered him) is a brilliant author. He’s caught for his murder, and sent away to prison, or even to death row. Should we stop reading his books? Should stores stop selling them? What if he writes a book while on Death Row….should it be published? My point is not about forgiveness, and I’m not saying there shouldn’t be consequences and boundaries in society. We need those! I’m saying that our serial murderer has more to him than murder. That he’s a human. This one in particular, in my imagining, has a way with words and a way of engaging his readers in his stories.

        Of course it’s healthy, to fear in ourselves that we may do these unimaginable things – that we may rape, or kill. And it’s probably healthy to disdain rape and murder, in and of themselves. The danger I see comes when we disdain humans, and refuse to see any part of them beyond what we disdain in them…and when we refuse to look at our own potential for behaving in the very ways we disdain.

        Thanks so much for engaging with my thoughts and responding!

  3. I really appreciate your thoughts and your journey and your wisdom. You articulated this so well. “We want the rapist to be someone else, someone inherently bad, someone we could never become.” Which is not the truth, and the more we can see we are all on this continuum, the less secrecy, shame, and continuation of what’s in the shadows.
    Your piece brings to mind an organization I almost worked for called Stop It Now, which offers a hotline for people who commit child sexual abuse. The idea is that there is nowhere child sexual abusers can go to get help without being reported, arrested, and villified their whole lives, so this organization offers a confidential hotline. It’s controversial, but I like the bottom line which is that the organization sees child molesters as people who need help to stop doing something awful. Not as vile others.

  4. Thanks for your thoughts. Surely forgiving is the best path for you. Maybe not the best path for the perpetrator. It’s unlikely that any abuser just abuses one. I wonder what he may be doing out in the field?
    And I don’t want to change your views. You seem to have found peace. But since you asked the question, I look at it like this. Your boyfriend cheats on you. I don’t care if you forgive him or not, but do you view him in the same way? ‘Some say the heart is just like a wheel – once you bend it, you can’t mend it’… So true. We love someone, and maybe we fall out of love. And it’s never the same. Or how about a musician/actor/comic you like. They’ve just been caught in a dog fighting operation. You can’t ever see them the same, and their previous work may be poisoned.
    With all the women coming forward, I see no way Cosby is innocent. And even if it’s been a while since he raped – can we ever see him the same way? He poisoned his own well. I think coerced sex is common in Hollywood. For girls or boys, men or women. Or anywhere there is big power, and people desperate to be discovered, to be rewarded.
    I was just reading about the Corey’s a few weeks ago. Haim and Feldman both found themselves as teens, in rooms with studio men or agents. Pedophiles. Yes, they took their clothes off when instructed. Yes, they knew it wasn’t right. But they were confused, and were told it was a requirement for the job. They got raped, and it screwed them up even more than teen stardom might do. One of them was raped by his agent until he was 18, and strong enough to stand on his own. How sad.
    And I’ll tell you another story – my ‘first time’ was with the wild GF of a bandmate, when I was 17. I wasn’t resisting, but she was the aggressor. Reconnecting on FB 5 years ago, he and I talked about her. We both wondered what happened to her. He told me something I never knew – her father had abused her. Maybe still was. And she had a 10yo sister… We both wondered what happened with her, and have both looked online. But we both know – it’s probably not a pleasant story, and ignorance may be bliss!
    I’m glad you finally found strength and forgiveness. And how horrible – your own family doesn’t believe you! Sorry you were dealt that hand. Good luck.

    • I’ve been thinking about this a lot since you posted it, and here’s what I’ve come up with: my boyfriend cheats on me. It’s painful, it’s horrible. And I can either let that become the only thing I see when I see him, or I can choose to see the rest of him – the guy who stayed up all night with me when I had the flu; the guy who brought me flowers one day for no reason at all except that he was thinking of me, the guy who broke my favorite mug and was an asshole about it…all of him, in all his complexity. I can focus on this horrible thing he did, or I can zoom out and focus on who is is and all that his done – the awesome stuff and the awful stuff, and over time let the fact that he cheated on me become just one thread in the tapestry of who I know him to be.

    • My point isn’t that they are good people. It’s that they good things they’ve done aren’t rendered evil by the fact that they’ve committed crimes. Maybe they should be in prison — that’s not for me to say: I’m not a part of the justice system. My point is that Bill Cosby raping women doesn’t make Cliff Huxtable evil by association. My point is that no one is all good or all bad – that we are all a mix. I’m not saying people who commit incest or rape should get away with it, not at all. I’m saying that we all hurt people, and we should all take a look in the mirror.

      Thanks for taking the time to read!

      • Sana – I admire your journey and that you have healed and I want to agree with you but in the case of Bill Cosby, it’s a repeated abuse of power, including the use of the Cliff Huxstable character to abuse….and this is inherently evil and not forgivable, for me. I have to put that one in “the box”.

      • I haven’t seen anything about “the use of the Cliff Huxtable character to abuse” … if you have links to articles on that I would be interested in reading them.

        And of course, choosing to put someone in the box is a valid option that is yours to take. I am doing my very best to let go of all ideas of right and wrong, and for me, that means dismantling my own boxes wherever possible. It certainly does not mean that anyone else needs to dismantle their own boxes along with me! And, the idea behind this post was to offer the perspective I am growing into to anyone else who wants to try it on. Thanks for taking the time to read, think, and comment!

  5. Restorative justice principles only work when the perpetrator engages fully with the process — engaging on behalf of the perpetrator looks more like collusion than anything else. Rape is more than just “an action”. I’m glad to know you have found your self-determination, but I don’t think “othering” is wrong when it’s kid rape we’re talking about. Not everyone is a potential rapist. Not nearly. I’m sorry you think this is so.

    • I do think that everyone has the ability to harm others, and I think that “othering” is always dangerous, because I believe that all humans are deeply connected, and to say any part of humanity is different from me puts me in danger of refusing to look at parts of my own psyche. If there are parts of my own psyche I refuse to look at, I risk them playing out unconsciously, which has the potential to cause harm to others. Rape is an extreme version of this. So while I don’t think that everyone is likely to commit rape, my argument was that all humans have the capacity to commit rape, and that we should all take a look at the ways in which we behave that are hurtful to others. The post wasn’t meant to be about restorative justice at all, or even really about forgiveness, but about perspective and integrity. I appreciate your taking the time to read and comment.

  6. I agree with the above Melissa and would like to add your forgiving is wonderful for your well being but what i struggle w is my abusers and yours are not admitting wrong doing or asking for forgiveness. It is important to remember, he has taken no responsibility for his actions.

    • Is forgiveness for the sake of oneself, or for the sake of the other? If I wait for someone to take responsibility for their actions before I forgive, I am carrying around the weight of unforgiveness, and I am still under the power of the other person: I remain a victim. If I forgive for my own sake – regardless of whether the other person ever admits what they’ve done or apologizes – then I free myself from that weight, I take back my power, and I am no longer a victim. It’s not my job to bring anyone else to justice, it is my job to live as fully as I can, to come into as much wholeness as I can, and to choose to live as consciously and with as much love as I am able. Thanks so much for reading and commenting, and participating in this complex conversation with me!

      • ok I really admire you for that, and I wish I could get to this point, I do have some freeing of myself to do. Thanks, you have given me a bit to think about!

  7. Just finished your essay, Sana. You have a lot of guts. I was breathless with a sort of sympathetic panic, wondering how you were going to manage it. It’s such a prickly topic. Every line trembled with anticipation, and thrummed with the exact tension you describe, that occurs any time the subject is broached. And you write with just that kind of candor that’s impossible to resist. Every line is a mirror as I struggle with my own othering on the issue. And other issues that I know more intimately than this one. My bads. Whew!

    All the while I’m thinking: “I can’t believe she’s writing this. Who would dare?”

    Well, let me catch my breath… Reading this was a remarkable experience. I love that you wrote this. It’s practically an impossible challenge. And you didn’t flinch. And anybody would profit from reading this, even though lots and lots of people are going to find it hard to swallow.

    I can pull back far enough to accept this. And, that should be full stop. But it’s hard to pull back from the edge when you want to hate, which is what you really want us to do, pause in our hating for a moment, which any self-respecting person is likely to hate you for. Interrupting hate is like interrupting a sneeze, or a spasm, or the next breath. Or like failing to fall when pushed over. And I’m not at all surprised when I see your larger theme being entirely missed. I’ve been in and out of agreement with you five times this past half-hour. That thing in ourselves that we refuse to see has a habit of being just sufficiently guarded to avoid being seen.

    I know at the same time that I can pull back and remember the larger truths, and that I can refuse to make that effort and instead follow some impulse. Somebody probably doesn’t deserve an effort from me. I’m safe assuming, is the assumption.

    I’m still going to have trust issues around people of this sort. Yet, backing off a bit, I hope I’m not going to lose your point. I know, when I’m conscious enough to take several steps to realizing it, that you’re right.

    Reposted from http://arts.nationalpost.com/2014/11/27/bill-cosby-gave-interview-about-canadians-sex-abuse-allegations-so-tabloid-would-kill-second-accusers-story/

    • Thank you so much! Your engagement with my essay is exactly the kind of response I hoped for when writing it, as I said over at the national post thread. Thanks so much for reposting, here, as well!

      • You’re welcome Sana. I’ve poked around at your blog for a few minutes, and I’m going to surrender to an impulse and tell you how much I appreciate the way you plainly speak of things that most of us tend to dissemble about. This has been one of the monumental struggles of my life. I’m 59 years old now, and have grown less and less impressed with more and more. The one thing that inspires or encourages me anymore is straight talk, about anything. Man oh man, I’m a guy, and I would love to have been more like you when I was 27. You’re a terrific writer. You know the point and stick to it like glue.

      • Aw, shucks. Thanks for surrendering to the impulse. Straight talk is a practice for me, a discipline, a constant declining of the habit of so many years of silence. And writing is my passion. To have both complimented in one go is very lovely. I hope that you know that 59 is not too late to get all inspired and fired up and connected to your own passion. I’m wishing for you the fullness of your own delight.

  8. It is a horrifyingly complex situation… Offenses of sexual nature are those that tug hardest at the moral strings of our character and beg several questions; Are those that have not been victimized able to fully grasp the immensity of the allegations and truths within these crimes? Are those that in fact have been victimized still damaged and haunted by what has happened to them, due to whether or not the perpetrator has been willing to confess to their crimes? And for some, they even beg as to whether or not the allegations are true to begin with… The questions rage on.

    The potential for forgiveness comes from 4 factors… The Perpetrator’s response, the Victim’s response, the Justice System’s response, and the General Public’s response as individuals. Because your particular case is the one I know, as opposed to that of BC or WA, I’ll focus on that one. You, Sana, have been victim to a truly despicable act, of that there is no denial. Your father (Perp response) has never admitted to committing his crimes, backing up with his falsehoods with the support of your family of origin. You (Vic response) can never truly forgive him, BUT are willing to look past them to recognize the good that he is doing and has done in the past. However, he has never been punished in the eyes of the law (JS Response) for his crimes. All of these factors influence my opinion on the matter, as one person (GP response).

    Because you are finally in a place where you could begin looking past his horrific crimes to the good works in his life, I am able to start doing the same. The victim’s response, at least for me, is by far the most important aspect. If he were to confess to what he did with undying remorse for actions, I could see my way towards accepting that. If he were to pay the price of his crimes in the eyes of the justice system, I could finally see that he has paid a minimal price for his actions.

    Doing the victim justice is the most crucial part of the process. You have been truly blessed in your capacity to learn and love in this life, you have sought out understanding and teachings from many sources to come to the place you have. I am saddened to say so many others, including the victims, may not have the same capacity. It seems to me the response of others isn’t based wholly in the disdain of the perpetrator, but rather the sympathy towards the victim. Until they get what they need, outside what we can provide to them, we push away their tormentors until they are willing to cooperate.

    But if nothing else, you have shown me an important aspect out of all this. One action need not define a human’s existence, it is possible to see the light outside the darkness. I will bear that in mind from this point on. But their willingness to accept and attest to their actions will strongly influence how others view them. If nothing else… it’s a start.

    • I appreciate your thoughts.

      You are right in saying that the situation is horrifyingly complex. I did my best, in the writing, to offer a perspective that I think has been missing from the conversation. I’m so aware that it is a partial perspective, as all perspectives are — my goal is to broaden and deepen the conversation, rather than to offer a view that is “the right way to look at it”. I think the only “right way” to look at something is to look at it as deeply and broadly and from as many different perspectives as possible. 🙂 So thanks for sharing your view.

      I think it’s interesting that you say of my situation “You can never truly forgive him”. Why not? I would argue that I have – that my forgiveness doesn’t depend on him ever owning up to what he’s done; that it was something I did for myself, to free myself of carrying around the weight of victimhood – to stand in my own power – to allow myself to grow beyond the identity of “victim” where unforgiveness had me trapped. 🙂

  9. Sana, first of all, Thank you! You are a voice of sanity. What we do does define us, but . . . and this is an important but . . . what we did should not. However, as BKH observes, “It is a horrifyingly complex situation”. Are justice and revenge synonymous? Sadly, too often that is the case, “You hurt me and now I will (but it it is not really me, it is others acting on my behalf) hurt you.”

    What saddens me even more is that this blog entry of yours will, in all likelihood, not go viral; you make too much sense.

    • Thanks, Dave! I wish it would go viral – not for fame, but for the sake of the conversation…of having as many perspectives voiced as we can in this situation that BKH was right about – it’s enormously complex. And you’re right, my words will probably not go viral. That said, I’m doing my best to share them as widely as possible, and just today got told that it’s being picked up by a small literary magazine’s online blog. Every little bit helps! If you, or anyone, is inspired to share this or reference it, please do so!

  10. Wow, this is truly eye opening for me! I very much agree with you about how we tend to cast anybody out who is “crazy” or who is threatening to others. The fact is that people don’t feel comfortable celebrating the work of a rapist or a serial killer because they don’t want to praise that kind of behaviour. They don’t want that person to ever feel good ever again, in fact they want them to feel ashamed. Sure, somebody’s work can still be celebrated but no further praise for that person will be acceptable in the eyes of society. We want them to suffer, like they made others suffer.
    I think that this is an amazing article and thank you for writing this! Very well written! Stay strong you wonderful being!

  11. Thank you, Sana, for opening up doors of dialogue on these painful experiences.

    Some random thoughts:

    I think it’s just too early (for me) to apply to Cosby such enlightened principles as you’re talking about and practicing. What he’s done is epic in the realm of sickness, madness, sadism, evil, whatever it is. I don’t even know if it’s my place to forgive him at all, but rather those he has done these things to.

    Any true lasting forgiveness for me is the result of a long process, made longer by the intensity of the harm done. How can forgiveness happen when we don’t even know the scope of the offense yet? There could be hundreds of women he did these things to.

    I know that in my own forgiving of people who harmed me personally, it took a long time, many two steps forward and one step back, and still I’m not sure I completely forgive. Maybe you could elaborate a little on your own experience or definition of forgiveness is. It’s one of those complex actions that can be too simplified by the one word we use to name it. But for me forgiveness takes a long time, and doesn’t just happen, or I don’t just do it, simply because I want to. It’s organic, driven by my desire to stop being so burdened and darkened by hatred, revenge, judgment, etc., as you have so beautifully and sincerely described. And I agree that forgiveness of others helps me if not them. But in my experience it’s the fruit of a long dynamic organic and painful process.

    On the question of whether a person’s good works are negated by such destructive acts:

    I think it’s more complex than simply negated or not.

    To be specific, I’m a recovering alcoholic, long sober. I watched a bit by Cosby a couple days ago, to see if I could laugh at (enjoy?) Cosby’s act/humor. It was a bit where he’s portraying a drunk vomiting in the toilet. It was done so well and so knowingly that I could not help but identify with the character he was portraying, the groaning and gagging, how he prayed to Jesus to just let him survive the agony of his drunken vomiting experience and he would vow to never drink again. How many times did I utter those same vows, meaning it at the time but forgetting it in the morning or by the next night.

    I laughed, and heard myself laugh, and stopped laughing, immediately feeling guilt, that there was something very wrong, or very non-conscious.

    Then I was simply in that uncertain realm (which I believe is the most honest place for me at this time)–the uncertainty of what is really going on, and the urge to get out of that uncertainty by either saying yes, he has ruined all the good he has done, or no, it’s funny and I’ll laugh. How can I, at the same time, know that you are right about forgiveness (or compassion, pity, sorrow), but also feel the next moment that I want him to suffer terribly for what he has done? But that is where I am at. I know what the higher calling is, but I am so far from being there.

    And I also thought of how so many of the women have said they vomited after he gave them the drugged drinks, so that specific pain he caused his victims entered into my own thinking about his “comic vomiting.” What was he feeling for his victims in their suffering, then or now? Anything?

    I also understand that we must look within, know ourselves, our own potential for crime, for hurting others, our dark sides, our Jungian shadows, and what will happen if we pretend to others and ourselves that we are moral paragons, as Cosby did. The shadow will find a way to express itself sooner or later. But we are talking about a man who has committed . . . he may go down as the worst rapist in freaking modern history. It’s kind of a stretch to say that yes, in the right circumstances, I am capable of terrible things, but there is nothing in me that would lead me to commit drugged rapes on the scope and over the time this man did. So I kind of have to set that aside for the moment, too. A case like Cosby’s does allow us to say, wow, I may be a rat, I may be mean, etc., but I haven’t raped 20 (or more) women! That, I think, is the danger of “othering” Cosby–it allows me to get away with all kinds of crap that may be awful but falls far short of the crimes/harm/inhumanity he has done.

    For me, a student of human psychology, one of the main pulls of this story is simply being baffled by how a person could justify it to himself, what process is going on at the time of the crimes, what connection there is between the rapist and the same man preaching to others about ethical behavior. That is the hideously fascinating part to me. We are all hypocrites but the scope of the split in a man like that is monumental and incomprehensible to me. I hope at some point he will talk about all this, but I fear he’s gone so far into such darkness that he would not be able to do so honestly.

    The truth for me is a mixture. I haven’t seen the Cosby/Huxtables show since this broke, but I did experience the startling and uncomfortable ambiguity of laughing at the comedy of a man who I am convinced is a serial rapist, a desperately ill man who has committed evil acts again and again over many years.

    But the laughter was cut short by my knowledge of the man behind the jokes. His good works may not be negated, but they are tainted. It is impossible for me to say “Damn, he may have drugged and raped dozens of women, with no apparent remorse to date, but he sure is wise and funny!”

    Same with his millions to charity and colleges, etc. Who’s to say all that was not in large part a kind of penance for his sins? It doesn’t undo the education or help his money has given others, but it taints it. It’s stained. Stained with the agony of his victims, with their years of suffering. It’s the price of what he has done.

    Thank you again. Sorry this turned out so long.

  12. It is important to separate the art from the artist…..but some art is impossible because of the nature of the art….if there wasn’t a moral to each episode wherein the father gives advice..it would be easier. The hipocracy in that alone, as in your father’s do-good religious behavior makes it even more important , to forgive but never forget. The person that’s marked now ,is only because a strong spirit sacrificed their own peace of mind ( you ) to alert the rest of us, may have only been motivated to do ‘good” work as a means to cover up their sinister soul crushing spirit. That’s the part that keeps them marked once exposed. the haunting silence that is too week to own up to their bad behavior keeps them marked. We are forgiving , us humans, by nature and we are respectful but not because someone is an elder, or patron, or on the board…but because they act in a respectable way. You have accepted what you can not change because you changed yourself for the better and are a good person. I am glad to see someone elevate their conscious to a productive place . what if you hadn’t been strong enough to expose your father ? would it destroy you ? would he give you hand up , then ? no. I can separate Picasso and Dali from their personalities….because of their type of art…it was not preaching. I think you have a good point but I personally draw the line on religious hypocrites or moral spokes people like actors or politicians because they write the rules, their power is above the victim’s reach often, and they have the platform to expose the reality they chose to hide once exposed. Although we disagree…..I applaud your big heart . You are setting a good example for us all.

  13. Wow. First, I have to say that this is an incredible piece. You are tremedously brave and good-hearted, and it’s wonderful to see someone who has gone through so much remain a compassionate, forgiving person.

    I’m not religious, but I was reminded of the passage in Genesis where Joseph speaks to his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good”. It’s a beautiful phrase, and a beautiful moment in the story itself.

    I feel conflicted about some of what you’ve written, and am trying to work through it while typing this, so apologies if this next bit is kind of random.
    I’m with you when it comes to seperating art from the artist, and taking pleasure in what good comes out of even the most sordid lives. But, at the same time, I guess I am all for drawing a box around certain people. Bill Cosby, for example, is a textbook malignant narcissist (sociopath). He has done good, and I think he believes himself to be good, but his moral nature is incredibly stunted. He isn’t just somebody with a character flaw whose made terrible choices (as even some rapists and murderers are), he is someone who has built his whole identity on belittling and hurting others. People like him can do wonderful things, but only for personal gain. It’s sad, but some people really are little more than predators.

    The vast majority of people don’t need to worry about becoming Cosby. Unless someone suffers catastrophic brain damage, there is no way they can lose their conscience if they have one to begin with. I’m not denying that people with consciences are capable of awful things, and that we need to look at ourselves closely, but at the same time, it is next to impossible for any of us to become serial rapists. We just aren’t wired that way.

    I guess what I’m saying is that I’m fine with taking the good with the bad for most of us, most of the time, but not all of us, all of the time. Everyone is a different shade of gray, but some people’s gray is so dark it might as well be black.

  14. I have to say that of course your healing journey is yours and yours alone. YOu have every right to your feelings and choices. But as a survivor of sexual abuse by my parents, both grandfathers, an uncle, and my sixth grade teacher something about what you wrote makes me feel sick to my stomach. I have wrestled with this for a long time. Can I keep those good experiences I had? How do I make sense of a Grandfather who was sadistic and enjoyed seeing me in pain?

    It’s not a matter of sort of falling into doing something wrong-it’s something seriously WRONG with them, something that cannot be changed. The Pianist was a great movie. How could a pedophille have directed it? Can I still watch and enjoy that?

    You know, what I truly wish is that one or ANY of my abusers would have said they are sorry, and that a group of people would stand with me, looking at them, standing WITH ME, and say ‘THey are responsible. People need to be protected from them. And what happened to you is serious and matters.”

    I don’t find any of those feelings in reading what you wrote, only the need to protect a Dad (abuser) and perhaps inability to see just how dangerous he both was and is. I can understand that. I used to split my Grandfather into the ‘good Grandfather’ and the ‘Bad Grandfather’-I felt better then.

    I don’t feel one bit supported by what you wrote. I feel supported when people take abuse really really seriously and say that what was done is so horrendeous that we need to stop giving awards to these people. Our society protects abusers and silences victims. I can’t imagine how anyone can think Cosby to be innocent, unless you believe that over 30 women are lying. And that is part of ‘rape culture’ myth-that women commonly and easily lie.

    Have you read that disgusting interview with Stephen Collins? He just minimizes and denies his way through the entire thing, citing his religious beliefs etc for helping him not to abuse yada yada…..when asked if he is a pedophille, which he clearly is, he hems and haws and he says something about not being perfect. That is not understanding and admitting what you have done. Same old psychopathic denial…….very sad.

    It feels like it is a way to protect the abusers, and they don’t need any protection. Victims need support and protection. Our society is completely out of whack in this way…..I wish to God that somehow someday one of these guys would actually understand what they’ve done and truly say they are sorry, and for once society would stand squarely and solidly with those who were brutalized.

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