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Sexual Assault Allegations Against Bill Cosby: The Collective Denial Is Terrifying

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I don't know Bill Cosby, but I feel like I do. I grew up watching "Fat Albert" on Saturday mornings, eating pudding pops through middle school and being glued to my TV all through the '80s watching his wildly popular sitcom. "The Cosby Show" was the only thing on TV that my entire family could agree to watch together. Pioneers gathered in front of a campfire after a long day on the trail; in suburban Texas, we huddled on the couch to watch the adventures of the Huxtable family each week.

My siblings and I saved our paper routes and babysitting money to buy my dad a venerable Cosby sweater one Christmas.

However, none of my warm feelings about the Bill Cosby I saw on my TV excuses the behavior he’s being accused of by several women as reported in the media.

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Strangely, I've been completely unaware of Cosby’s reputation as a man who allegedly sexually abuses women until recent months. Yes, women have been alleging that Cosby assaulted them since 2005 — on the TODAY show no less, a show I watched religiously back then. "The Washington Post" and "The New Yorker" both ran pieces in recent months about the allegations surrounded Bill Cosby, which include accusations that Cosby both drugged and violently assaulted more than a dozen women.

None of this hit my consciousness until I read a blog post calling out Queen Latifah for canceling Cosby’s appearance on her show. Subsequent statements issued by the show indicate that it was in fact Cosby who canceled his appearance on her show, but nevertheless, why has it taken so long for me to break through my denial about this larger-than-life icon from my youth?

My own denial is echoed in a February piece on Slate.com, titled “Why Doesn’t Anyone Care About the Sexual Assault Allegations Against Bill Cosby?” There, author Amanda Hess, speculates that the relatively muted response to the Cosby allegations (as compared to, say, those against R. Kelly or Woody Allen) is a result of the fact that nobody wants to live in a world where Bill Cosby is a sexual predator.

I know I sure don’t.

Here’s why the Bill Cosby allegations trouble me the most: As a mother of small children, I don’t want to think that my judgment is that off.

She also points out an uncomfortable fact that “our collective attention span for rape allegations is short.”

Good Lord, that stopped me cold. If that’s true, which the on-going careers of Woody Allen and R. Kelly suggest it certainly is, then what if this short attention span operates at my children’s school, or the day care at the gym or in my community? What if the people who handle the background checks for the teachers and caregivers who watch my children every day looked past some “indiscretions” or “allegations” because “they didn’t seem true” or because someone had a reputation for being “a really great teacher” or a “beloved father figure”?

That’s all terrifying because the fact is that I have to trust my children’s schools and doctors, but here’s why the Bill Cosby allegations trouble me the most: As a mother of small children, I don’t want to think that my judgment is that off. I want to think of myself as someone who could have seen through the veneer of respectability and warmth and benign authority that I projected onto Bill Cosby. I should have been able to intuit that something sinister lurked beneath his lovable image.

How could I cling so fervently to an acting role he was playing and be so thoroughly steeped in denial? According to the reports of Barbara Bowman and Tamara Green and 11 other women who agreed to testify against Cosby if a case went to trial in 2006 (Cosby settled the case in 2006), he’s battered and assaulted more than a dozen women. Of course, those allegations have never been proved in a court of law, but I’m not inclined to discredit victims’ accounts of a harrowing sexual assault.

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How many times have I heard the story of a child being molested or mistreated by an adult and wondered what were the other “innocent” adults thinking? Why did they leave the child alone with this predator?

My complex feelings about Bill Cosby (who has not been accused of mistreating children, only grown women) and the considerable denial about his “true” nature give me some clues about how children come to be molested by so-called beloved family members, teachers, neighbors and coaches.

We don’t like idols to fall. We don’t like to think that our judgments about people are wrong. We certainly don’t like to think that the people we love and trust would hurt us or the people that we love.

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