As a survivor of multiple sexual assaults and activist for peace, I am ashamed and almost unwilling to admit that I, too, initially questioned the validity of the accusations against Bill Cosby when I first heard about them. However, when I was raped in Cape Town six weeks ago while doing humanitarian work for #StopRapeEducate, I remembered those brave women and decided to speak up for myself.
What is it that makes us doubt the stories of rape survivors? Why are people so afraid to confront this topic and have these conversations? What is it about rape that makes it so "unbelievable"?
Almost every man or woman who tells people about their assault is further victimized by the media, friends, and/or family. Minutes after I was sexually assaulted, after the rapist left the crime scene, I stayed. I took a photo of my distress and documented the entire incident in graphic detail, from beginning to end. At the time I had an Instagram following of 20,000 supporters of my campaign #StopRapeEducate. I didn't know what the police would say or what the ultimate result would be, so I decided to tell my followers about what happened, as my own little form of justice. It would have been incredibly hypocritical of me to stay silent whilst leading a movement that encourages survivors to speak up.
I told the story of my rape with as much detail as I could. I knew that it would shock the world. And I didn't care what people thought or said. I told the truth, the full truth, because I wanted to convey the message that no matter what a person does, there is no justification for rape. Not everyone got the message, however. Thousands of people responded with vicious attacks against me calling me disgusting, a slut, a liar, and fraud. I instantly felt like I was in the same boat as the women that Bill Cosby assaulted: publicly shamed and shunned for making a courageous act.
Whether the survivor is in the media or not, the backlash from standing up for yourself can be just as devastating as the incident itself. I thought my pain would end when the rape was over. It was only just the beginning. I'll never understand why the world is so cruel to people who need compassion the most: survivors of abuse. Even I, a human rights activist and feminist, fell guilty of internalized misogyny when I heard of the Cosby case. This made me realize that patriarchy and rape culture is engrained in all of us deeper than we realize. We can unlearn rape culture by promoting a culture of consent. Instead of focusing on the problem, I've moved towards more solution-based activism which is why I've started a brand new movement called Creating Consent Culture. In a culture of consent, we believe and support survivors of rape, we ask our partners if they wish to be touched or kissed, and we create the peaceful world we all dream of!
I have no doubt that we can make this world a better place and I'm willing to work for it - but I can't do it alone. Every person out there needs to do their part in creating consent culture. We need to teach consent curriculum everywhere - especially to children, doctors, lawyers, and police officers so that our "justice system" can actually live up to its name.
If you'd like to create consent culture, you can start by supporting survivors of abuse unconditionally. Uplift them. Listen to them. Believe them. Help them turn their pain into power so that we may all live our best lives ever.