Cosby horrors' next lesson: What our accusations "fatigue" is really about

Are you sick of hearing all the allegations against Bill Cosby? I am -- and it's time to examine why

Published February 28, 2015 7:00PM (EST)

  (AP/Todd Williamson)
(AP/Todd Williamson)

I am sick of reading that “yet another” woman has come forward to accuse Bill Cosby of drugging and raping her decades ago. I am sick of writing it too. And I’m very sure that the good readers of the Internet (and the watchers of CNN) are sick of it as well, tired of having to hear the same details for the 37th* time. Young actress looking to start career meets influential comedian who offers to take her under his wing. Influential comedian gives her a drink — maybe alcohol, maybe cappuccino — and suddenly she feels foggy.

She might not remember anything, or she remembers waking up to find herself violated. Or, she wakes up to find the all-powerful Cosby — famous, beloved, married — on top of her. She probably feels she can’t say anything, unsure of what happened or of what the repercussions could be, so she doesn’t say a word. Maybe she tells a few people close to her, but otherwise she keeps the incident a secret. Not until years later, when dozens of other women share her same memories — in lawsuits and newspapers and press conferences and on TV — but call them their own, might she finally feel she can speak up. And so she tells her story.

Why would any of us want to hear this story, once or 37 times? It is awful and gruesome no matter which details vary or stay the same. But I’m not convinced that the awfulness and gruesomeness of these alleged repeated violations is what makes us so reluctant to keep listening to these women and continue the conversation. We still don’t want to confront any of the harsh realities these stories would make us face. We know that already. We have been over what it means for Cosby’s legacy to be destroyed (by his own actions, if you believe these 37 accusers, which I do); we have discussed, in other contexts, the difficulty of accepting that rape is common and often committed by people who are not otherwise monsters.

But I think Cosby is a monster and that he’s a serial rapist, and that no matter how many times we say as much it’s still an exhausting, difficult thing to unpack. Taking each of these stories individually isn’t as easy as saying “yet another woman came forward,” and so we don’t. And then these stories become one story, and that story becomes banal, and people get sick of reporters reporting on it — because Cosby won’t be prosecuted and isn’t going to prison, and so why keep up with this whole trial by media anyway?

Bill Cosby is still performing stand-up. He felt emboldened enough this week to tell his remaining fans, of which he seems to have plenty, that his career is “far from finished.” This alleged serial predator, who likely raped dozens of women, will not so much as be investigated for these allegations, and that is something that we let happen. Don’t get me wrong: I am not so naive to think there’s much to be done about Cosby. I understand the truth in my own assertion that he won’t be prosecuted and isn’t going to prison, because I understand that there is a statute of limitations for rape and sexual assault that turns those words into facts.

But there doesn’t have to be, and maybe wouldn’t have to be if we would just get angry enough about the injustices of the Cosby case. The outcome of this case is neither necessary nor the work of fate; it’s the result of limitations within a criminal justice system that doesn’t take sexual assault seriously enough, and makes it too easy to let people such as Cosby continue on while a 37th woman tells the public he raped her. There is room for fatigue after hearing from more than three dozen women, but there is so much more room for rage and for change.

The women coming forward and telling their stories is the first crucial step toward that change, and part of a larger movement for us to finally confront our problem with sexual assault. The next step is for us to actually listen to them — every one of them. If we’re exhausted by the headlines before we can even do that work of listening, it might be worth examining why. These stories aren’t just updates on a timeline of whom Cosby assaulted, when he did it and when the survivors finally felt they had the strength, support and opportunity to speak out. Their accounts of violence are not salacious gossip about a single bad man, but an indication that our culture systematically rejects the reality of that violence. They are evidence of how much work we have to do to prevent others from even having these stories to tell — and then maybe these horrors will become so rare as to never seem banal again.

*Counted via this list.

By Jenny Kutner

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