When I was in the seventh grade, a classmate assaulted me. I was 11-years-old, approaching my 12th birthday and attending Airways, a school where a small percentage of the teachers acted more like babysitters than actual educators. One of my worthless classes was music. The “teacher” pretty much let us do anything we wanted. At the beginning of the class, he would take roll. After that, he would put in a movie for us to watch while he read a book at his desk. At that time, the music room was in the basement of the school so many of my classmates would hangout in the hallway talking, making up rhymes or playing catch with someone’s football because we had the entire floor to ourselves.
I never liked hanging out in the hallway because the kids were too loud and rowdy. But I had befriended a guy in my class. And one day he asked if I wanted to hangout in the hallway with a group of kids from the music class. At that time, I was quiet and extremely shy making it difficult to make friends. Hesitantly, I was yes; I didn’t want to be antisocial. So I went. There were about five of us in the hallway. For the first 10 minutes, we just talked about kids’ stuff: what we watched on television, the latest new rap artist. And out of no where, the guy who I thought was my friend, picks me up in the air, places his hands up my dress and shoves his fingers violently inside of me. It was painful and I could feel his long nails scratching my insides. I was swept up so quickly that I was probably silent for the first few seconds. Then, I began to scream. Stop! Stop! I said as I was trying to move his hands away from me while simultaneously trying to push myself down to the floor. But he was strong and very big (at least 6’3) for a 7th grader because he failed a grade. I was 5’3 and weighed about 100 pounds at the time. All while, the group of about five kids from my class looked on saying and doing nothing. He eventually put me down. The entire incident spanned about two to three minute, but it felt like an eternity. I ran into the bathroom crying. One of my female “friends” ran after me. She asked if I was okay. I said no, of course not! I asked her why didn’t she help me. She said because I hesitated for a second, so she thought I “wanted it.” I told her that I was caught off guard. I asked her why didn’t she help me down when I was screaming. She just stared at me, eventually saying she was sorry. She then walked out of the bathroom and left me there alone.
I spent at least 20 minutes sitting on the cold bathroom floor thinking about what I should do next. I was humiliated and ashamed. Should I tell my unengaged music teacher? Should I even go back to the class? What would my parents think? How will the kids view me after this incident? With about a minute to spare before changing classes, I went back to the music room to retrieve my book bag. I tried to avoid the boy who attacked me as I grabbed my bag under the desk. But he walked in front of me and began to smile while sniffing his fingers. I was further humiliated.
I went to my next class in a daze. In my 11-year-old mind, I began to replay the events and questioned what I could’ve done to “deserve it.” Was it the skirts that I had to wear everyday at the time because of my religion? Did I say something in a conversation that triggered it? I just couldn’t understand why.
I finished the rest of the day thinking that I would make a decision about telling someone later. I wasn’t sure how the school administration would treat me. They already assumed that most of the kids were oversexed. Truthfully, I was one of a few kids that I knew at the school who was still a virgin. So would they think I was like the other girls? I was afraid to tell my parents. They were super religious and I didn’t know how they would respond to it. I wondered if the principal of Airways or my parents would blame me because I wasn’t supposed to be in the hallway during class time anyway. Looking back on it, I’m sure both of my parents would’ve been at the school fighting for me, but I was just too ashamed to look at my dad in the eyes and tell him that a boy in my class touched me inappropriately.
I was also fearful for my life. The guy who attacked me had some close friends in gangs. I was afraid that by telling on him that it would result in my family or myself getting hurt. I felt so alone; so I decided to never mention it again. Well, until now. And the reason I’m doing so is because I’m sick—damn near physically—at how some people are treating the women who are accusing Bill Cosby of rape. One of the main arguments I hear people say is: Why did the women wait so long to say something?
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) “only 36 percent of rapes, 34 percent of attempted rapes, and 26 percent of sexual assaults” are reported.” The BJS suggests that the reasons why so many sexual assaults go unreported are due to: self-blame or guilt; shame, embarrassment, or desire to keep the assault a private matter; humiliation or fear of the perpetrator or other individual’s perceptions; fear of not being believed or of being accused of playing a role in the crime; and the lack of trust in the criminal justice system.”
In Cosby’s case, given the fact that he’s not only famous, but also wildly popular, it can definitely add to the women’s anxiety about coming forward to report the crime. When I was assaulted, I felt like I had no one to turn to, especially given the fact that there were at least five witnesses who saw the attack and watched silently as it happened.
What’s also alarming is how men in the media are handling the conversation. One TV news reporter pretty much asked one of the accusers why she didn’t bite Cosby’s penis when she was forced to go down on him. And this morning on a show, a panel debated about what Cosby’s “best strategy” should be when dealing with the accusations as if they were discussing what strategy the Democrats should take after losing the Senate. I was disgusted.
Some question whether financial motives are involved. As far as I know, only one woman has received an undisclosed settlement out of court—one woman out of 16. The jokes and memes floating around social media about Bill Cosby’s rape allegations compounded by people expressing their disappointment that the 20-year-old reruns of The Cosby Show will no longer air on TV Land shows how we as a society devalue victims of sexual assault.
What more evidence do we need before we believe that the beloved TV father figure is actually a sexual predator? It’s a hard pill to swallow. I know. I am very close in age to Keshia Knight Pulliam. I—like most kids during that time—was infatuated with Dr. Huxtable’s charm: his G-rated humor, his clever parenting techniques and his passion for education. We have to look beyond a fictional character that we saw once a week on a 30-minute sitcom. In a society that idolizes those we see on television, we need to see many of our “idols” as they really are: flawed people who are capable of committing heinous acts.
So let’s stop the rape debate once and for all. Let’s stop coming up with every excuse under the sun to justify Cosby’s innocence like questioning the women’s motives (i.e. doing it for money) or insinuating that they deserved it (i.e. saying there’s more than one way not to give a blow job during a TV interview).
The timing of when the women decided to come forward is irrelevant. It’s been more than 25 years since a no-named, teenage classmate attacked me during my music class and I never told a soul. So I don’t think it’s that farfetched that 16 women—overcome with shame—waited years, even decades, to admit that a beloved, American icon raped them.
This article was originally published on my online magazine, emPowermagazine.com