For decades Bill Cosby has been enshrined as America’s most treasured TV Dad, the quintessential symbol of all that is good and wholesome in family values conscious America. The adulation for Cosby is so colossal and enduring that he’s been rewarded with yet another run at a TV series and a widely acclaimed biography. But what do we make of the other Cosby? The one who a 46-year-old artist now claims drugged and raped her when she was 17? She’s just the latest to pile on Cosby as a serial sexual predator. Her tale of alleged Cosby abuse echoes in detail the sordid tales of druggings, rapes, and other assorted sexual abuses by 13 other women that spanned decades.
Those were the same decades that Cosby was propped up on the top rung of the family values pedestal. When the allegations first surfaced some years back, an angry Cosby screamed foul, and claimed that the charges were nothing but a shakedown of a rich and famous celebrity. Though no criminal charges have ever been filed against him, Cosby has quietly settled lawsuits against him out of court. This go round Cosby has said nothing about the latest sexual abuse charges. But a spokesperson has called the accusations “preposterous.”
The tragic irony is that he has done more than his women accusers to massacre his own image.
Cosby inadvertently made himself a sitting duck for the finger-pointing when in his well-meaning, but ill-tempered tirades he repeatedly lambasted poor black teens and their parents for being lousy parents, educational slackers, for butchering the English language, and for their alleged thuggish behavior. The indictment was way too broad, too sweeping, and it inched dangerously close to reinforcing the same vile racial stereotypes that Cosby has spent most of his professional career fighting against. To no surprise, a horde of conservative commentators and unreconstructed bigots have stumbled over themselves to hail Cosby as the ultimate truth-giver and laud him for having the courage to air dirty racial laundry.
Now Cosby has been dumped back on the bad behavior hot seat. If America’s number one Dad can ride high up in the moral saddle and lecture other blacks on their alleged bad behavior, than he should be held to the same lofty standard. The hint of sexual misconduct left him wide open to the accusation that he was a hypocrite and a fraud.
There were warning signs that Cosby might eventually be ripe for a tumble. In 1997 he made a bombshell confession that in the ’70s he had an extra marital affair, and was accused of fathering an illegitimate daughter. There were allegations of shakedowns, under the table hush money payoffs, an extortion trial and conviction of the woman who claimed to be his illicit daughter, and an avalanche of embarrassing kiss and tell tabloid gossip stories on Cosby.
He dodged the bullet on that one. In sex scandal driven America, it’s a virtual rite of passage for the celebrity, rich and famous to be embroiled in peep show scandals. The public delights in that kind of titillation. It was hard to ban in Boston a guy who had shelled out millions to minority student scholarship funds, black colleges and had worked tirelessly for civil rights causes over the years. Cosby also continued to rail against the “clown,” “coon,” and “buck dance” image that blacks propagated of themselves in TV sitcoms. He pushed and prodded the film and TV industry to do more to promote more positive black images on screen.
However, the glue on Cosby’s still largely intact good guy image loosened when the parade of women leveled the drugging and sexual assault charges against him. Cosby initially vehemently denied the charges, but swiftly shifted into damage control mode and, as he delicately put it, admitted to having a “sexual encounter” with one of them. But, he quickly added the requisite, that it was consensual. This still fit the jaded public belief that the rich and famous routinely have their little sexual trysts, and who makes a big deal out of that?
Cosby defenders have again rushed to the barricades to defend him reminding all that allegations are just that, allegations, and not proof of any wrongdoing. And that these are nothing more than crass and self-serving put-up jobs to character assassinate yet another high-profile, outspoken black man and thereby sully all blacks as moral degenerates. They are in part right. They are allegations only, and despite the cheerleading of him, he’s not totally immune to being the recipient of the same bashing he’s unceremoniously piled on other blacks for their plight.
America’s favorite dad may be right that his parade of sexual accusers is out to gouge a star. But this doesn’t change the fact that now many paint him as anything other than a model Dad. He can only blame himself for his sullied image.
Instances of child abuse increase during the summer, with some shelters and child advocacy centers actually doubling their caseloads, according to anecdotal reports.
While these tragedies include everything from neglect to beatings, child advocate Michelle Bellon, author of The Complexity of a Soldier (www.MichelleBellon.com), says parents and caregivers should be especially alert to one of the most easily hidden and underreported crimes: child sexual abuse. Her novel centers on this epidemic, and aims to raise awareness about it.
“Children may be less supervised during the summer, or they may be in the care of extended family members so their parents can save money on child care,” she says. “Both situations put children at risk; the former for obvious reasons and the latter because 90 percent of child sexual abuse victims know the offender.”
Child predators are terrorists, Bellon says. Like the terrorists we deploy armies to battle overseas, they prey on innocents and subject them to physical and emotional torture. The consequences can be devastating and lifelong, including post-traumatic stress disorder and separation anxiety, according to the American Psychological Association reports.
“Does this sound like anything else we have heard about since 9/11? To me, it is very similar to what victims of terrorism face, and what soldiers face after fighting wars,” Bellon says. “I think child predators should be called what they are – domestic terrorists.”
Bellon shares these guidelines from a number of sources, including the Centers for Disease Control, to keep children safe this summer.
• When choosing a summer program, ask about employee (and volunteer) screening and how interactions are monitored. A criminal background check is not sufficient to ferret out sexual abusers, since many have never been charged or convicted. Instead the program should look for warning signs in written applications and interviews. For instance, some predator adults spend all of their time with children and have no significant adult relationships. Policies on interactions between adults and children should include examples of appropriate and inappropriate conduct, and definitive steps for both monitoring and addressing concerns and complaints.
• Ask about the training. Staff and even temporary volunteers should undergo training to recognize signs of sexual abuse and to learn when it’s appropriate to report concerns. There should be a designated person to handle reports. Training should be required for staff and volunteers who come on board midway through the summer. Policies should include procedures for handling not just potential abuse, but also violations of the code of conduct for interactions.
• Ask about interactions between older and younger children. Some programs allow older children to serve as “junior counselors” or activity assistants. Ask about the guidelines for these situations, including whether and how long children may be unsupervised by an adult.
• Make sure children understand “personal boundaries.” Teach children the importance of recognizing and respecting the invisible barriers that separate them from other people. They should be able to recognize their comfort zone – and that of others! – and know that they can and should speak up about setting limits. Start at home by respecting a child’s right to say “no” to physical contact, such as tickling and hugs. Never force a child to kiss a relative.
• Recognize signs of a problem. Children often won’t or can’t tell you what’s happening, but there are signs to watch for, including changes in behavior such as withdrawal or unprovoked crying, night terrors, bedwetting, eating problems, unexplained injuries, suddenly avoiding a particular person, and unusual interest in or knowledge of sexual matters.