When the reports emerged and the multiple alleged Bill Cosby victims shared their stories, I’d be lying if I said I was surprised. Knowing that 1 in 5 women in the United States experience sexual assault, the only shock I felt was the horrifying rate at which these brave victims weren’t taken seriously.
Is it so surprising that an alarming amount of women could have been drugged, raped and forever violated by a powerful man?
Was it essential to question the validity or intentions of each reported victim, when only 2 percent to 8 percent of reported rapes are classified as false? (Although, it is worth mentioning that the statistic itself is under scrutiny; a quantifiable example of our society’s eagerness to be suspicious instead of supportive.)
It was startling to know that these statics — and countless, painful examples — are readily available for quick, intellectual consumption, yet women are continually challenged when coming forward.
Then I remembered where I reside, and my astonishment quickly dissipated to one of sadness and personal anguish, as I begin to vividly relive my sexual assault and the victim-blaming that came with it.
And as I saw the cover of New York magazine, with an empty chair placed at the bottom of the page, preceded by 35 brave women, I started to wish I was one of the women that seat represented, instead of a woman who could relate with those who came forward.
That feeling. That burning, consuming, shameful feeling of wishing I didn’t report my sexual assault, is why there will always be an empty chair.
It is why rape and sexual assault will keep happening and why the people responsible, will continue to live their lives outside of prison, dodging consequences and becoming repeat offenders.
It is why an average of 68 percent of assaults will continue to go unreported.
It is why that statistic will, in all likelihood, continue to grow.
It is why a day won’t go by that I don’t wish I hadn’t reported my own sexual assault.
When I reported my sexual assault, my sexual history was questioned. Any promiscuity I may or may not have experienced, prior to that fateful night, was used as a benchmark of validity. A woman who is open about her sexuality must want sex from anyone, at anytime, so any advance can’t possibly be unwanted.
I remember sitting across from the responding officer, fighting off every natural instinct to run in the opposite direction as he raised his eyebrows and softly shook his head.
When I reported my sexual assault, my body parts were photographed, then categorized, then filed away. My clothing — down to the underwear I wore — were placed into baggies and given corresponding identification numbers. My rape kit was sent to be processed, but like the reported 70,000 untested rape kits across 1,000 police departments, it has sat untouched. My bruised body parts, the invasive samples, are collecting dust and indifference.
I remember shivering in the hospital room, readjusting an uncomfortable paper gown as the forensic photographer asked to see my right breast, humiliated and embarrassed. Not because I was naked in front of a stranger, but because I was starting to wish I had lied and said nothing happened.
When I reported my sexual assault, it was over a year before I heard anything from the investigating detective. I had tried my best to move on, forgetting the trauma and guilt that violated and consumed me a year prior. Suddenly, with a phone call on an otherwise enjoyable day, I was back in that bedroom; forced on a bed and pleading for freedom.
I remember wondering why I had felt the need to report anything at all, as the detective said he didn’t believe there was enough sufficient evidence to proceed with the investigation. In “he said, she said” cases, there rarely is, as sexual assault is hard to prove in many instances for a variety of reasons.
And my story of reporting sexual assault is not my own.
As a society, we’ve created an environment in which it is safer for a woman to live her life with an all-consuming trauma, then report it and seek out any semblance of justice. We urge women to be “brave” and “come forward,” only to harass them. We shame them for staying silent, asking them to think about any future victims that could have been spared if they had simply spoken up, yet we shame them for reporting, questioning their intentions and ability to be honest.
So as I read the stories of each alleged Bill Cosby victim, and the sad truth that the majority were met “with skepticism, threats and attacks on their character”, I couldn’t help but question if any of it was, or is, worth it.
I thought of the women who were reading the very same story, perhaps at the very same time. I imagined the women who could resonate with each victim; feeling guilty as they recognized themselves in each photograph or word, yet relieved that they didn’t put their trust in a system that, more often than not, fails women exactly like them.
I imagined they shook their heads and silently whispered to themselves I did the right thing, knowing that if they would have spoke out, they wouldn’t have been taken seriously or supported or simply, and genuinely, listened to. They wouldn’t have found justice and they wouldn’t have felt, even a small piece of themselves, healed.
I thought of the women who were represented by that empty chair, and I felt jealous of them.
I wish I was them.
And that is why, unless something changes, there will be more women like them.