With every post about the maniacal plot to bring Bill Cosby down, I cringe. I’m unsure if it is more disturbing that they are coming from men who Black women have stood on front lines for and prayed for, or from women who have mothered us or with whom we are bound by sisterhood. There is a certain cultural betrayal that takes place when Black people cape for Bill Cosby or R. Kelly— or insist on supporting their art. It is exacerbated when Black women are forced to choose between the fight to protect Black men’s lives and the fight to be safe from Black men’s harm.

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Photo: Kena Betancur, AFP/Getty Images

When you support Bill Cosby, when you put forth your conspiracies, when you say why did they wait so long? why bother he’s old? or these women just wanted fame! you are communicating to Black women who have survived sexual assault loudly and clearly– you were right not to tell. I can use I statements moving forward, because this is very much my truth. I was sexually assaulted in a living room by a man I once loved while my friend slept in the next room. I never reported it and never will, even though I make a living encouraging survivors to come forward. I never reported it, because I knew what would be said– and my safety and sense of justice honestly was not a priority. I could already hear the peanut gallery: “him? he’d never!” Or, “you had consensual sex with him for the past X years, and now he doesn’t want to be with you so of COURSE you are accusing him,” or “You both were drunk!” (I wasn’t). How about, “why’d you invite him in in the first place?” Or, “so you’re raped but your friend slept through the whole thing? You didn’t scream?”

This thought process is nothing new for survivors like me. The men who assault us don’t grab us in a park. They use our bodies for sport and wish us happy birthdays. They send us cards and congratulate us. They go bowling and stand in line for cupcakes. We betray ourselves because we still love them afterward. Because we are constantly negotiating whether justice for ourselves comes at too great a cost to our communities. The thing I hear most commonly from survivors I’ve worked with is, “I don’t want to get anyone in trouble,” but the thing I told myself was– if I report this my friends and family will have to know, and he will have to go to jail. At that time, my assault didn’t feel worthy of jail– but it was enough for me to remember what I had on, where we were, the hallway with fluorescent lighting where I begged him not to come in. The thought that it was the first time in a long time that I was clear that I didn’t want to have sex with him. The thought that he never looked me in the eye. Or that of the few words he spoke, I distinctly remember, “you’re on birth control right?”

Nearly a decade later I remember it so well. And every once in a while, I re-remember it. But luckily for him and men like him, Cosby supporters and the doubters of Cosby’s victims have done far more than support a rapist– they made the silence of Black girls and women who have been victims too safe to leave behind. You’ve encouraged us to martyr our bodies for the safety and security of our predators. You’ve told us, that our stories are at best unimportant and at worst a lie… and it’s working.

This cultural betrayal by those who are supposed to love, guide, shepherd us… to keep us whole… can be more painful than the act itself. Every share, every post, every, ‘I am against rape BUT,’ every ‘why didn’t you?’ cuts us a special kind of deep. Because if you are willing to go to these lengths to defend a man you don’t know, a character that isn’t real, a deal that was never going to happen, a man too old to be punished, a man who chastised black people with respectability politics, and a man whose victims included Black women… we know where you will stand when it’s your teammate, or brother, or gym buddy. We know who you are, and we know you don’t give a damn about us. The line in the sand is drawn, and all that is left for us to do is grab every niece, little sister, little brother, nephew, cousin, homie, and mentee we can find and tell them they are loved. And we will believe them the first time. And they deserve justice. And they are worthy. And we are here, even if the rest of them are not.