Bill Cosby and the myth of the lurking rapist

Image from tvweek.com

Jezebel has a new article today about three more victims have come forward to allege that comedian Bill Cosby raped or sexually assaulted them in the 70s and 80s, bringing the number of alleged victims to over 40. Each time a new victim comes forward, I am horrified again not just by the actions of this clearly very sick individual, but by the reactions to the continuing allegations. So far, the Cosby camp still hasn’t really issued a response to any of the allegations, with Cosby continuing to make public appearances and posts on his website. Celebrities like Whoopi Goldberg and Cosby’s daughter have spoken in his defense, leading to no small amount of backlash for their perceived victim-blaming.

One of the issues I have perceived in the response to the allegations is that the part that should be the most damning – the fact that so many women have come forward – seems to be the part that people have the most trouble wrapping their minds around. Surely someone as cuddly and lovable isn’t capable of this, surely no one is capable of victimizing so many women. It must be some sort of elaborate conspiracy theory, a smear campaign against an American icon. However, if there can be one positive thing to come out this whole hideous mess, I hope that it will be that we can change the way we look at rapists.

As women, we are sometimes lead to believe that there is a ‘lurking rapist’ hiding in every dark alley, just waiting to attack us for being too scantily-clad, too alone, too female. We are fed a long list of ways to avoid rape, all of which are more than a little victim-blaming, and all of which seem to ignore the ultimate problem: the rapists themselves. This is no new concept. I’m sure most people have seen the numerous memes floating around, declaring “Don’t teach women to avoid rape! Teach men not to rape!”. While I completely support this idea, it is also important to know that the idea of the ‘lurking rapist’ is more scare tactic than reality, whereas the serial rapist is the true issue here.

Still, the idea persists that as women, we should fear all men because any one of them could be a rapist. And this is simply not the case. In a 2013 al Jazeera report on campus sexual assault, it is revealed that 90% of campus sexual assaults or rapes were found to have been committed by repeat offenders. A more recent article at Slate, citing the same research, claims that most of the rapists found in the survey had committed an average of 5.8 sexual assaults each, with rapists who had committed only one offence in the minority of those surveyed. As Amanda Marcotte notes in the article “That 1 in 5 college women have been assaulted doesn’t mean that 1 in 5 men are assailants”. Although I’ve yet to find a study outside of a college environment that backs up these findings, I think it’s safe to say that colleges represent a microcosm for our society. Isn’t it at college where young people learn the skills, behaviors, and habits that will stay with them for the rest of their lives?

Serial rapists, not ‘lurking rapists’, waiting in the shadows to pounce on an unprotected female, seem to be the real problem here. And it’s no surprise really, when you consider the statistics surrounding the reporting of sexual assault and conviction rates or rapists. A quick overview of The Rape Abuse and Incestion National Network (RAINN) website will show you that 68% of sexual assaults go unreported.

RAINN.org

Considering these statistics it is no wonder that serial rapists are the main perpetrators of sexual assault: there is such a small chance that they will ever be reported, much less spend any time in jail, that they see themselves as basically invincible. Add in the factors of wealth and fame, and it is easy to see how famous men like Bill Cosby could get away with so many assaults over such a long period.

My point here is, that if one glimmer of positivity can come out of this horrible situation, it should be that the idea of that ‘lurking rapist’ is mostly false. The problem we have here is a culture of silence around rape. Women are afraid to report rape or sexual assault because they know there is little chance they will even be taken seriously. However, as we’ve seen in the case of Cosby, all it really takes is one person to stand up and tell their story. Hopefully, this can be seen as an inspiration to other rape victims to come out publicly against their attacker, in order to prevent them from continuing to terrorize other women. If you yourself have been a victim of an assault, you should never be afraid to speak out against your assailant. You may just find you aren’t the only one.


If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, you are not alone. There are many easy, anonymous for you to seek help or representation.

If you live in the US, RAINN.org has many resources for you including a telephone hotline where you can talk to a trained support officer.

In the UK, rapecrisis.org.uk is an umbrella organisation for a network of rape and sexual assault charities. They also run a hotline and have a load of free help and advice for you.

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