Since the 1980s, it's been used to diminish and discredit efforts to reduce racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, ableism and other forms of discrimination. But despite people like Donald Trump declaring "I'm so tired of this politically correct crap," the efforts remain because the issues have not gone away.
It finally happened. After months of accusations from over 50 women with horrific tales of sexual assault, Bill Cosby's luck has run out. On December 30th, 2015, Cosby stood before a judge, faced charges of indecent assault, and paid more money in bail than most people see in their lifetimes. If convicted, Cosby could face a mere $25,000 fine and ten years in prison. These are charges from only ONE of the women, Andrea Constand, who says she became friends with Cosby when she worked at Temple University.
I've been writing about the politics of sexual assault for a while now, and it seems apparent that for a woman who's been sexually assaulted, the decision to go to the police and to press charges is fraught with complications. She not only has to consider the discomfort of her assault becoming public knowledge, but she must face the daunting possibility that her reputation will be dragged through the mud by the defendant's attorney; that the DA will choose, as Mr. Coster did, not to prosecute; or that the judge will find for the defendant.
Here we are in 2015, and women who go public to accuse men of sexual assault end up being doubly attacked. First, they must deal with the physical and emotional trauma related to their experiences of assault, and second, they must contend with the negative reaction of the public and the ensuing damage to their reputations.
Whether we're talking about sexual assault, sexual abuse, rape, or date rape, it's important we don't get caught up in the semantics or the nuances of the language we choose. When I read the news stories about the accusations against Bill Cosby and Jian Ghomeshi, I shudder at the fact that for many of us, our first reaction is to dismiss, or question, the assertions brought forth by the "alleged" victims who after years of isolation and devastation, have finally arrived at a place where they feel they can speak out.
Why, in a time when we have more information available to us than ever, when WHO member states have adopted "a historic" resolution to address violence against women and girls, and when consent is being introduced into school curricula in some Canadian provinces, does violence against women still remain largely hidden?
No question from my oldest daughter has torn more at my heart. A discussion about never taking rides with strangers unexpectedly morphed into a talk about sexual assault. "Mom," she whispered tentatively. "Do you mean that someone can just sneak up and do THAT to me?" My heart lurched into my throat. Until that moment, my bright-eyed daughter lived blissfully unaware of the fact that women can be raped. I was rendered momentarily speechless.