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An awkward kind of justice


“It’s very awkward,” O’Donnell said. “Isn’t it awkward?”

“It’s more than awkward, it’s a tragedy,” co-host Nicolle Wallace responded. “Either 13 women were raped by someone too powerful to face the criminal justice system or an innocent man is being falsely accused.

The kind of informal public shaming ritual to which Bill Cosby is now being subjected is obviously a potentially dangerous sort of social practice, at least in the abstract. In the concrete circumstances presented by what appears to be a very long history of serial sexual assault, it may be the only justice available to a perpetrator’s many victims. If the fourteen women who are known to have accused Cosby of sexual assaulting them are to be believed — and it’s almost impossible to come up with any plausible explanation for the collective nature of their stories other than that those stories are true — then of course the number of women Cosby has actually assaulted is likely to be much larger. (Update: Another woman, the model Janice Dickinson, has come forward with another accusation of sexual assault that closely tracks the details of the other stories).

For obvious reasons the criminal justice system is now of no use in regard to extracting any retribution for these crimes, although perhaps that system might still have deterrent value as to Cosby’s future acts, given the attention these accusations are now getting. As for lawsuits, women raped by rich and famous men rarely sue them, for reasons that are even more obvious. (One of Cosby’s accusers did sue him. The case settled out of court, but not before thirteen other women offered to testify that they too had been sexually assaulted by Cosby).

So the present spectacle may be, in the case of Cosby and his alleged victims, the only justice to be had.

(Several comments in the couple of previous threads on this subject have suggested that these accusations are only getting attention — from the media in general and from mighty LGM in particular — because Cosby is African American. [Edit: Denverite points out that the precise claim made by commenters in previous threads was that accusations of sexual assault against African American men are more or less automatically believed. But that’s really just another way of saying such charges are given unjustified attention, since charges that are treated as unbelievable won’t get nearly as much attention.] It’s difficult to describe the absurdity of this claim. What’s truly remarkable is that, nine years ago, fourteen women announced they were willing to testify under oath that one of the most famous entertainers in America sexually assaulted them, and the matter got relatively little media attention at the time — Scott noted this past February in the context of the Woody Allen story that he wasn’t aware that Bill Cosby had been accused by multiple women of sexual assault; I was similarly unaware of that fact, which by itself doesn’t prove anything, but is suggestive regarding the level of coverage the story received. If anything, this suggests that the role racism played in this story was to keep accusations against a “beloved” –i.e., acceptable to white people — black man from getting the attention they otherwise would have gotten.)

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