I am a child of the late 1970s and the 1980s. This means I grew up watching Charles in Charge, Punky Brewster, Mork & Mindy, Saved by the Bell, Full House, Growing Pains, and Diff’rent Strokes. The show that made the greatest impression on me as a kid was The Cosby Show. Who didn’t want to be a member of the Huxtable household – they were intelligent and loving and, happily, wrapped up life’s challenges in a 30-minute episode each week. I was most struck by Dr. Cliff Huxtable played by Bill Cosby, he was caring and funny and always seemed to know the best approach to teach his children (and me) an important life lesson.
I am fully aware as an adult that an actor is simply a person playing a role. They do not (necessarily) embody any of the qualities of the characters they portray, but to me Bill Cosby has always been Dr. Huxtable. He is the smiling man who convinced me to beg my mom to buy me Jello Pudding Pops each week (they really were delicious). I could trust him completely and he could never steer me wrong.
I’ve recently learned there were initial allegations that Mr. Cosby raped a number of women in 2005. These allegations went back as far as 1969 and were as recent as 2005. I was completely unaware of these events occurring – it was the year my daughter was born and I think I was on a near total blackout during her infancy (I blame lack of sleep). These allegations came and went without my awareness. I was aware, however, when new allegations began to surface this year. I do not know Mr. Cosby (despite having “spent” my childhood with him) nor do I know any of his alleged victims. I do not know if he did the horrible things they claim he did to them. I do worry when there are so many complaints – the adage “where there is smoke, there is fire” comes to mind, but I don’t know.
Recent audiotapes of Stephen Collins (Reverend Camden on 7th Heaven) while in marriage in counseling with his wife revealed he had behaved in a sexually inappropriate manner with a number of underage girls in the past. It is unclear if there are additional victims of his sexually abusive behavior. The public was shocked, as he had always been portrayed as a positive role model. He, also, did not fit the public’s image of a child sexual abuser.
We need to change the way we look at perpetrators. Remember in the 80s (if you were alive in the 80s), we were all taught “Stranger Danger”. We learned bad guys were strangers who roamed our neighborhoods waiting to kidnap, rape, and/or murder us. We were instructed to shout, “Stranger” and run screaming to nearby houses and pound on doors until someone came and rescued us. What we weren’t taught is 90% of children know their offender with 50% being related to them.
What we should learn from this is perpetrators of sexual abuse/assault come in all shapes and sizes. He can be the friendly uncle who makes us laugh or the creepy guy who makes you want to cross the street to avoid him. He can be young or old, tall or short, thin or fat, black or white. It is important to let go of our stereotypes of what a rapist looks like. These stereotypes can lead us to a false sense of security and make us to think we are safe when we are not. They can cause us to doubt a woman’s allegations because her attacker does not fit our image of someone who might do us harm.
It is important to teach our young women (and society at large) that a perpetrator can be anyone. We need to take precautions no matter with whom we are interacting and to tell, tell, tell if something inappropriate occurs. We need to stop letting people off the hook because they are famous, or “nice”, or educated, or religious, or “anything”. Dr. Huxtable/Mr. Cosby, if you did the things these women claim you did, it makes me sad and you should face the consequences.