When the news broke last week that Bill Cosby plans to conduct sexual assault seminars this summer social media pages exploded with voices of anger and outrage. People were saying things like “Only a narcissist would do something like this” and “Maybe Mr. Cosby should do a confession tour instead.” Initially I was infuriated when I read the story. Then I realized his plan to educate people about how to not be accused of sexually assaulting another person fits perfectly with his pathology.
I have been counseling survivors of trauma, abuse, and sexual assault for over 20 years. I am also a childhood abuse survivor. I was present for most of the Andrea Constand sexual assault trial and week of deliberations. Throughout the trial I found myself hit with many emotions; heartbreak, anger, sadness, and at times fear. I paid close attention to Cosby’s reactions while others were testifying. At times he laughed, at times he yawned, and at times he smirked as the details of his deposition were read in court.
It got me thinking a ton about all of the survivors I have counseled through the years and the dilemma they face when trying to grapple with the idea that someone that was supposed to love them hurt them so deeply. I also felt helpless when I could not go up to the jury and explain why Andrea had continued contact with Mr. Cosby after the alleged assault occurred.
One of the hardest parts of recovery for most survivors is to accept and understand how to cope with the abuse they were subjected to, whether by parents, partners, bosses, coaches, clergy, or someone else. On numerous occasions, patients will say things like: “How could my mom do that to me?” Or they will say, “But he said he loved me.” Or I remember thinking: “But my perpetrators did things for me too; they did not just hurt me.”
An abuser’s pathology can be very complicated, because most of them have wonderful, charismatic, and loving sides to them. And usually the victim is afraid to cut ties, because they need this person. And more often than not, abusers come from a family where they, too, experienced some type of trauma in their childhood or early adulthood. We hear about the cycle of abuse and how it can run from one generation to the next. Cosby’s ploy to go out and educate others about avoiding being accused of sexual assault is his way to identify as, and act like, a victim.
My concern for anyone attending these seminars is that they will have more reason to feel sympathy for him. Most humans have an incredible capacity to forgive and feel bad for others. So many domestic violence and sexual assault victims stay connected to their perpetrators because they think, “He did not mean it” or “I don’t want to hurt him.” That is part of the reason survivors will experience multiple abusive episodes by the same person. He or she keeps going back out of guilt and fear.
Within minutes of Cosby’s mistrial announcement, he and his PR folks berated the legal system and indirectly accused the 60-plus women of pressing charges for financial gain. His wife stood beside him and criticized the dedication that Kevin Steele, the district attorney, has put into bringing justice to Constand and all of the other Cosby accusers.
My suggestion to anyone planning to attend Cosby’s seminars is to keep the big picture in mind. Cosby and many other alleged sexual predators are experts at reigning in support and persuading their audience to believe they are the victim. Think about all the stories you have heard since this story broke the end of 2014. Think about the similar patterns. And keep in mind, when a perpetrator wants to do good for himself/herself and others, they get help and eventually take responsibility for his or her actions. Cosby’s announcement of doing a speaking tour puts more people at risk to disbelieve the accusations made by 60-plus women over the course of 30 years.
Shari Botwin has been counseling survivors of trauma and abuse in her Cherry Hill private practice for over 20 years. She has appeared on several national media outlets to give commentary on the Cosby trial, the Paris attacks, and the Orlando shootings. She is working on her second book, “Conquering Trauma,” and will be featured in a documentary on sexual assault recovery later this year.