lifestyle

Reporter asks rape accusor: "But why didn't you bite him?"

Trigger warning: this post discusses rape and violence against women and may be upsetting for some readers.

Yes, forcing a woman to perform oral sex  is rape. No, someone can’t consent when they are drugged or drunk. And yet it seems some people are still not clear on this.

Fifteen women have now come forward to allege they were raped by  TV icon Bill Cosby at the height of his fame.

Fifteen women who all tell a frighteningly similar story: that Cosby allegedly drugged and then raped them.

The allegations span a period of more than 20 years.

None of them reported their claims to police at the time, all citing the fear they wouldn’t be believed.  But when one alleged victim came forward recently, it empowered the others to tell their stories. Now 15 women have come forward, including model Janice Dickenson who yesterday alleged she too was drugged and raped by Cosby in 1982.

As an alleged Cosby victim explained, “I had heard…I was not the only girl he had drugged and raped but I never had any proof… I knew I should say something. I still felt ashamed. Ashamed that I didn’t earlier… As more and more of his rape victims have come forward, all telling similar stories, the time is right to join them”.

Of course, none of these allegations have been proven in court.

But as CNN anchor Piers Morgan quoted from Twitter this morning: “The rape allegations against Bill Cosby are a classic case of he said/she she she she she she she she she she she she she she said.”

Not all reporters have taken this approach. This week, CNN’s Don Lemon, a seasoned reporter, interviewed alleged Cosby rape survivor Joan Tarshis.

A former actress, music industry publicist and journalist, Tarshis’ alleges that Cosby drugged and assaulted her on two occasions in 1969. She recalls that on the first occasion, Cosby made her a drink and then she began to feel hazy:

“The next thing I remember was coming to on his couch while being undressed. Through the haze I thought I was being clever when I told him I had an infection and he would catch it and his wife would know he had sex with someone. But he just found another orifice to use. I was sickened by what was happening to me and shocked that this man I had idolized was now raping me. Of course I told no one.”

Incredibly, during his interview of Tarshis, Lemon suggested that she should have bitten Cosby’s penis in order to stop the attack, saying “you know, there are ways not to perform oral sex if you didn’t want to do it.”

With that one sentence, Lemon highlighted why so many rapes go unreported and why so many survivors are scared to tell their stories. It also demonstrates why we need to keep talking about what rape is and what constitutes consent.

The interview went like this:

DON LEMON: Can I ask you this, because — and please, I don’t mean to be crude, okay?
JOAN TARSHIS: Yeah.
LEMON: Because I know some of you — and you said this last night, that he — you lied to him and said “I have an infection, and if you rape me, or if you do — if you have intercourse with me, then you will probably get it and give it to your wife.”
TARSHIS: Right.
LEMON: And you said he made you perform oral sex.
TARSHIS: Right.
LEMON: You — you know, there are ways not to perform oral sex if you didn’t want to do it.
TARSHIS: Oh. Um, I was kind of stoned at the time, and quite honestly, that didn’t even enter my mind. Now I wish it would have.
LEMON: Right. Meaning the using of the teeth, right?
TARSHIS: Yes, that’s what I’m thinking you’re –
LEMON: As a weapon.
TARSHIS: Yeah, I didn’t even think of it.
LEMON: Biting. So, um —
TARSHIS: Ouch.
LEMON: Yes. I had to ask. I mean, it is, yeah.
TARSHIS: Yes. No, it didn’t cross my mind.

Lemon has now apologised for this line of questioning, saying, “if my question to her struck anyone as offensive, I am sorry, as that certainly was not my intention.”

Lemon also said: “As I am a victim myself [of a paedophile when he was child], I would never want to suggest that any victim could have prevented a rape. If my question to her struck anyone as insensitive, I am sorry as that certainly was not my intention.”

ADVERTISEMENT

The problem is, that while Lemon says he’d never want to suggest that a victim could prevent a rape, that’s precisely what he did. That’s problem number one.

Former model Janice Dickinson alleges that Bill Cosby drugged and raped her in 1982.

But his comments are also indicative of a wider misunderstanding in the reporting of rape.

People think they know what rape looks like – it is (a) done by a man; (b) who physically restrains a woman; and (c) penetrates her vaginally or anally.

This is certainly rape. But that is not the only behaviour that constitutes rape.

The definition of rape or sexual assault is different in every State in Australia, but the elements are similar. At the heart of the definition of rape is (a) sexual intercourse with another person; and (b) without their consent.

Sexual intercourse involves is the penetration of the vagina or anus of any person with any part of the body of another person (penis, finger, tongue, anything) or any object. It also includes the insertion of the penis into the mouth of another person and cunnilingus.

So, according to the law, oral sex is sexual intercourse. Always and without a doubt.

The other essential element of rape or sexual assault is the absence of consent.

You may think you know what not consenting looks like. But the law says that there are circumstances that a person cannot give consent. A person is unable to give consent when they are:
• asleep or unconscious
• significantly intoxicated or affected by drugs
• unable to understand what they are consenting to due to their age or intellectual capacity
• intimidated, coerced or threatened
• unlawfully detained or held against their will, or
• they submit due to the person being in a position of trust.

So when someone is drugged or drunk, they can’t consent. When they are being intimidated, coerced and manipulated (including psychologically), they can’t consent. When someone submits to sexual intercourse because the other person is in a position of trust, they can’t consent.

If we return to the case of Joan Tarshis, she alleges that she was drunk and drugged when she was assaulted. Plus, she was a young actress being pressured by a man she idolized.

On her own telling of the story she did not kick, scream (or bite) Cosby and was not physically restrained by him. But without a shadow of a doubt, a drugged person like Tarshis could not have consented. She did not need to prove it by biting a penis or in any other way.

The law is very clear on this: rape can happen without physical force. Oral sex without consent is rape. Always. Any suggestion that a victim of rape didn’t do enough to fight back is always ridiculous and always wrong.

Light blue and pink butterfly illustration. You click, we help. Shooting star illustration.

Mamamia is funding 100 girls in school, every day.

So just by spending time with Mamamia, you’re helping educate girls, which is the best tool to lift them out of poverty.

Thanks for helping!

Light blue and pink butterfly illustration. Girl with pigtails sitting at desk writing in notebook. Row of four books.
Three hands holding books
00:00 / ???