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Can Cosby’s Controversy Teach Ole Miss Students About Sexual Abuse?

campusThe case against entertainer Bill Cosby seems to keep growing.  This week, civil rights attorney Gloria Allred hosted a press conference with three women alleging comedian and educator, Bill Cosby, committed sexual abuse against them.
Allred urged the 77-year old entertainer, most known for his portrayal of Heathcliff Huxtable on the popular sitcom, The Cosby Show, to waive the statute of limitations that prevents many of his accusers from seeking judicial recourse.
The push for litigation against Cosby comes after the issue of Cosby’s comments on black youth became a part of  comedian Hannibal Burress’s stage act. During his set at the Trocadero Theatre in Cosby’s hometown of Philadelphia, Burress joked “Bill Cosby has the f****n’ smuggest, old black man persona that I hate.” Bellowing into the microphone in his best ‘smug, old black man’ voice, he mocked Cosby’s demeanor “I can talk down to you because I had a successful sitcom.” Immediately afterwards, he dropped the blow that turned the audience’s enthusiastic cackles to awkward titters, “Yeah, but you rape women, Bill Cosby, so that kind of brings you down a couple notches.”
Burress, who says he had been performing his Cosby bit for months before video of his Philly performance went viral, spurred a media firestorm that led a number of women to band together in the hopes that their stories about Cosby could be heard.
Last month, Cosby’s lawyer issued a statement that tries to discredit the women. “These brand new claims about alleged decades-old events are becoming increasingly ridiculous, and it is completely illogical that so many people would have said nothing, done nothing, and made no reports to law enforcement or asserted civil claims if they thought they had been assaulted over a span of so many years.”
Bill Cosby himself has yet to make any public comment on the situation, which has cost him major blows such as NBC halting development on a television comeback for the former sitcom star and Netflix canceling the premier of an upcoming stand-up special.  He also decided to step down from his position on the board of Temple University.
All of this comes in the context of the sexual assault conversation already underway on many university campuses.  At the University of Mississippi, the Violence Prevention Office uses its space in the Campus Counseling Center to break down the culture of silence that surrounding this issue.
Violence Prevention Coordinator, Lindsey Bartlett Mosvick, believes the media coverage of the Cosby case could present a greater awareness about sexual assault and how to address it. “I think the great thing that the story is doing is starting a national conversation around the fact that anyone can potentially be a perpetrator of sexual violence,” she says, “I think Bill Cosby has traditionally been thought of as a cultural icon, a dad figure, and that’s sort of shifted now in our conception.”
Mosvick says public perception plays a lot into many of the misconceptions devised in the American consciousness regarding what kinds of people commit rape. “It really could be anyone. These things happen to everyone.”
College campuses happen to be a hotbed for sexual assault issues.  This week the Washington Post reported that  one in five women will be raped while in college.. “There is an impression, right or wrong, that it doesn’t happen here. That’s why we are starting to talk about it more and it’s more important to discuss on a college campus.”
According to the University of Mississippi Police Department Crime Report, in 2011 there were five reported forcible sex offenses in and around the campus.
Second-year graduate student, Josh Lohn, says the University of Mississippi could make even greater strides to inform students about the realities of rape on college campuses. “What ends up happening is sexual abuse, the majority of time, goes unreported because the victims tend to blame themselves. So, it’s extremely important to make people aware, especially students,” he says.
 The Violence Prevention Center offers Ole Miss students information and services for victims on campus. For more information, the facility employs an open-door policy for all students and faculty in need.

Story contributed by Ole Miss journalism student Jared Boyd, jlboyd3@go.olemiss.edu.

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