Phylicia Rashad wrong on Cosby

Story highlights

  • Peggy Drexler: Phylicia Rashad defended Bill Cosby, accused in multiple alleged rapes
  • Drexler says women must not do this if they want the rape of women to stop happening
Editor's note: Peggy Drexler is the author of "Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family" and "Raising Boys Without Men." She is an assistant professor of psychology at Weill Medical College of Cornell University and a former gender scholar at Stanford University. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.

(CNN)This week, three more women came forward to accuse Bill Cosby of drugging and assaulting them. That brings the total up to more than 30 women who have accused the comedian and actor of sexual assault in events going back decades. All of the allegations have passed statutes of limitations, which means rape charges cannot be filed.

The women's reasons for not coming forward earlier amount to: fear of retaliation, and fear no one would believe them. Fear.
Peggy Drexler
A few days ago, it appeared that former "Cosby Show" cast mate Phylicia Rashad was condemning the women making the allegations. "Forget these women," Showbiz 411 had quoted Rashad as saying. "What you're seeing is the destruction of a legacy. And I think it's orchestrated." She was subsequently blasted throughout the media for what many took to be a dismissal of rape victims and a defense of Cosby.
    On Wednesday, in an interview with ABC News, Rashad said she was misquoted and attempted to clarify those comments. What she'd meant to say was that, "This is not about the women. This is about something else. This is about the obliteration of legacy," she said. She blamed the media for declaring "guilt without proof" and described Cosby as "a genius. He's generous. He's kind."
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    Over the past several months, allegations have painted Cosby as a sexual predator, a serial rapist, a man who, over many decades, allegedly drugged and assaulted women, many of whom had viewed him as a mentor and guide. Still, no charges have been filed. He has not stood trial. He has not been convicted. (His attorneys have vehemently denied the allegations.) Which raises the question: Could a man accused of such things by so many ever deserve defense? What if the man is someone you call a friend?
    It's fairly easy for most of us to condemn Bill Cosby, because he is not a person we actually know. For Rashad, the matter becomes more complicated. Cutting out a stranger is one thing; cutting out a friend is another.
    And yet that's what Rashad has to do -- that's what we all have to do.
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    We all have friends who have acted badly in one way or another. Maybe -- and I mean maybe -- you can continue a friendship with someone who has been accused, once, of rape, if you have asked the right questions and satisfied yourself that the one allegation is not true. But you cannot say, "It's none of my business," or "We don't know the story."
    The simple fact is you cannot be friends with a man whose accusers are in the double digits, even if this man is still walking free -- perhaps especially if this man is still walking free. Not if you want the rape of women to stop happening.
    That Cosby likely won't be charged for any of the alleged crimes he is accused of is a scenario not at all unique to him. Every year, literally countless men who engage in sexual violence against women do not face charges, for reasons as varied and familiar as those given by the women in the Cosby scandal. The law is not perfect, and has limitations. That's where the rest of us come in.
    Boycotting these men, excluding them from our lives, not being their friends, their defenders, their devil's advocates. Holding them accountable. Turning our backs. Stopping the rationalizations. This is where and how we take a stand.