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Why don’t we believe rape victims? Because of people like Phylicia Rashad.

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Phylicia Rashad doesn't believe Bill Cosby raped all those women.

Here's part of what Rashad, the actress who played Clair Huxtable to Cosby's Cliff on The Cosby Show, told Showbiz 411's Roger Friedman about the growing list of sexual assault allegations against the 77-year-old comedian, all of which he and his attorneys have denied: "What you're seeing is the destruction of a legacy. And I think it's orchestrated. I don't know why or who's doing it, but it's the legacy. And it's a legacy that is so important to the culture."

In a way, sexual assault victims owe Rashad a strange kind of thanks.

Her dismissive stance illustrates, in a way no public service announcement or myth-busting list could match, why so many women who are raped don't report their assaults. It's a perfect encapsulation of the exact reaction that many victims — especially those raped by powerful men — fear.

Imagine you've been raped and are deciding whether to report the assault to the authorities. Just thinking about the possibility that someone — a police officer, friends or a family member, the public, or a court — would brush off your story the way Rashad brushed off of the stories of Cosby's accusers could be enough to make you stay quiet.

But it gets worse.

Rashad, who was initially quoted as saying "forget these women," insisted Wednesday that she was misquoted. But in explaining herself, she revealed even more of the type of attitude that silences victims, telling ABC News, "What I said was this is not about the women. This is about something else. This is about the obliteration of legacy."

Read those sentences closely. Rape accusations are "not about" the women who make them. The women who make them need to consider whether they are damaging their rapist's legacy, or perhaps the legacy of his art, or his accomplishments. That is to say, a woman who says she has been raped by Cosby is being told, by the woman who played Clair Huxtable, to think long and hard about whether she wants to be culpable for destroying the glittering cultural influence of The Cosby Show.

Her remarks hit all the notes that a woman raped by a powerful, famous, widely adored man like Cosby would fret about before publicly accusing him. It's easy to see how beliefs like the three main ones revealed by her curt statement could silence anyone:

  1. Power earns people the benefit of the doubt and a loud defense: Rashad seems to suggest that Cosby's high profile and the fact that he has a show business "legacy," mean he is somehow either incapable of having committed the assaults of which he's accused, or shouldn't be held responsible for them. And Rashad's choice to use her platform to defend him is a reminder that powerful people like Cosby have the loyalty of other powerful people, who have the tools to amplify their defenses of their friends.
  2. Women have all sorts of shady incentives to make claims about high-profile men: Rashad's "I don't know why or who's doing it" comments, and her reference to an "orchestrated" effort to ruin Cosby's legacy, are telling. It's not clear whether she's saying that the accusers have all decided to get together to frame Cosby, or that they're puppets of someone else. Either way, the sentiment goes hand in hand with the equally popular idea that the accusers might just be seeking publicity. This makes very little sense, based on what we know — but what woman would want to risk the pain of having her motives scrutinized in these ways after confessing a major trauma?
  3. Some people are just too important to criticize: Rashad's hand-wringing over the destruction of Cosby's contribution to "the culture" — ostensibly through his creation of a sitcom depicting an African-American family that defied racist stereotypes — seems to suggest that she would want potential accusers to embrace a line of thinking that goes something like this: if you come forward against the alleged crimes of Cosby the man, you're destroying the legacy of Cosby the public figure, and that legacy is important, and other people who believe it's important will attack you if you ruin it, and even if you succeed in persuading people to believe your story, you will have done something terrible.

The good news is that the disturbing example provided by this "it's not about the women" thinking means none of us will ever again have an excuse to wonder, "If she was really raped, why didn't she say something right away?" The answer is: because of people like Phylicia Rashad.

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