Bill Cosby resigned from Temple University’s board of trustees yesterday amid allegations of sexual assault. The move came after a Change.org petition with over 1,000 names urged the university to cut its ties with the famous alumnus. Temple was one of the last remaining supporters of the disgraced comedian.
The allegations against Cosby are not new. Since 2004, 20 women have come forward with allegations. In 2006, Cosby settled a case out of court with one of his accusers. Another 12 did not testify at the time. And with that, so it seemed, the controversies went away. Cosby went on to more show business, appearing on talk shows and continuing to work with networks on sitcoms and stand-up specials. Until last week he was slated to develop a new show with NBC. It is clear in his case that accusations are more damning than apologists would have us believe. Many were content to turn the other way as the issue made its hasty, discreet exit.
Following a series of media events this fall,, the Cosby rape allegations came back into the national conversation. We were again forced to question our beloved sweatered patriarch about the accusations. But the climate surrounding sexual assault has changed. Universities throughout the country have faced intense criticism over their handling of rape allegations. A larger awareness has emerged concerning our society’s allowances for rape, about our proclivities for blaming rape survivors and excusing rapists. The Change.org petition was the culmination of this growing awareness — and Cosby’s own resignation likely saved Temple University a lot of grief.
Even with this growing awareness, the women who have come forward about being sexually assaulted have been swiftly accused of defamation for publicity and financial gain. Cosby’s own lawyer described the women’s allegations as “ridiculous,” saying that it is “completely illogical that so many people would have said nothing, done nothing, and made no reports to law enforcement or asserted civil claims.” This dismissal of survivors of sexual assault is not new. Women who come forward after the fact are routinely called sluts and liars whether the rape involves a celebrity or not.
This unwelcoming climate leads to fewer survivors coming forward. It is important to consider and reform the arena in which justice is brought to survivors. So long as the conversation surrounding rape and sexual assault feels more like an interrogation of the survivors than an attempt at understanding, survivors will remain silent.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Dec. 2 print edition. Email the Editorial Board at [email protected]