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What if you damage one life, but uplift millions?

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“Applause is the spur of noble minds, the end and aim of weak ones.”

Edmund Burke

Celebrities – especially the ones we applaud, iconise and hold in high esteem can seem so far out of our reach, akin to fictional characters, in a movie that is unending. For that reason, we struggle when they meet their demise because we never once imagined that the story would end. We expect them to outlive us. We fantasise about who they really are in life and immortalise them so death is never a part of the script. When they do die, it is hard to rationalise and accept it. It hurts. We feel it deeply. We cry even though we have never met these people before, and now, never will.

There is also a profound absence of nuance in life and in death. No room is left to question the grey areas of our idols because the script we choose to follow is an amplified version of whatever makes them iconic to us. No space for their failings and imperfections because their iconic status supersedes all of that. They are infallible. We must speak no ill when they die. Unless they did something glaringly and obviously despicable. Sometimes they have to commit said despicable act repeatedly before we call them out and demand for justice. But if we really like them, and it was just that one time, and it didn’t make it to trial, all is forgiven.

We forget that for a victim, all it takes is that one time to ruin their life completely. The victim becomes the liar, the gold digger, the “Karen” trying to bring a black man down, even though she never stood a chance against a lawyer who was ready to slut-shame and tear her to pieces in court, to win her high profile case.

I would have dropped the case too!

Even though there was an initial denial of ever having a sexual encounter which then changed to an admission when he found out that a rape kit had been done and there was evidence of his semen on her. Even though there was a lengthy statement that apologised and stated amongst other things: that he did not doubt the victim’s motives, no money was paid to her, and that even though he truly believed that the encounter was consensual, he accepts that she believes she did not give consent “after reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney and her testimony.” He never once tried to defame her. He never called her out of her name. He never vilified her and he very well could have. He never denied that it happened. He never explicitly said she was lying. He accepted that they had different views of what happened, and he apologised.

Many will choose to overlook the shortcomings of their idols especially if they believe that the good they have done supersedes and atones for the bad. In a very insightful conversation with a close friend who also happens to be a huge fan of the accused, the following question arose: What if you damage one life, but uplift millions? I have pondered on this and instead of leading to clarity, more questions came to the fore: Who determines what that upliftment looks like? How do you measure the negative impact of the damage to one, against the positive impact of the upliftment of millions? What if it would take much more than simply uplifting millions to atone for just some of the damage one victim was dealt and still deals with? And what about that one victim? Where is their own upliftment?

Some of the nicest men you may know are rapists! Some without even knowing it. Why? Because their view of consent is skewed and we continue to reject these conversations when teachable moments present us the opportunity to engage in meaningful discourse.

This, all of it, is indicative of a patriarchal society that continues to directly and inadvertently perpetuate violence against women and girls. Some of the nicest men you may know are rapists! Some without even knowing it. Why? Because their view of consent is skewed and we continue to reject these conversations when teachable moments present us with the opportunity to engage in meaningful discourse. There is still a pervasive view amongst most that women who dress a certain way are asking for it. Or that going into a hotel room is consent. Amongst some men with celebrity and power, this can be even worse.

Young men need to be raised and socialised in such a way that consent is an integral part of sexual experiences and rape is as unthinkable as cannibalism is.

Consent is not going into your room. It is not wearing a short dress. It is not smiling back at you. It is not accepting a lift. It is not drunk and disorderly or drunk and unconscious. It is not a lifetime contract i.e. I can change my mind especially if I am hurting or bleeding and things get unexpectedly uncomfortable. It is not coerced. And it isn’t silence. So instead of waiting for a no, why not ask explicitly for a yes? Young men need to be raised and socialised in such a way that consent is an integral part of sexual experiences and rape is as unthinkable as cannibalism is.

I am going to admit that I cried and I can’t even call myself a fan. My mind kept jumping between imagining those last few moments shared by father and daughter, to thinking about the pain of a wife and mother when she found out she had lost the only man she’s loved and been with since the age of 17, along with one of the dear daughters they shared together. Yes. I cried. Because I am human with a heart that feels deeply. Try being an empath!

It has been 3 years and the tears are gone. Yet I am not sure it will ever be a “good time” to address the allegations. It could be 40 years and this post might still be considered “tasteless” by many. And I can understand that because how does a fan get closure on the one known questionable act of someone they iconise? It is a lot easier to forgive and forget or pretend it didn’t happen but again, what about the victim – by his own admission – who had to relive her experiences while watching him get glorified and portrayed as a pillar of society? How does she get her closure? Will she ever get her closure?

Within a much wider context far greater than this story, here are a few reminders:

“No one else has come forward. It only happened once.” Once is bad enough.

“The charges were dismissed.” Not because there was a trial, but because the case never made it to court because the alleged victim refused to testify.

“The case never went to court so he is innocent and was never proven guilty.” Ok. But let me use this opportunity to remind you that sexual assault cases hardly make it to court and conviction rates are very low. According to RAINN, Only 230 out of every 1,000 sexual assaults are reported to police. That means about 3 out of 4 go unreported. In 2018 it was estimated that in the US, for every 1,000 rapes, 384 are reported to the police, 57 result in an arrest, 11 are referred for prosecution, 7 result in a felony conviction, and 6 result in incarceration. Perpetrators of sexual violence are less likely to go to jail or prison than other criminals. In a system that puts the burden on an already vulnerable victim to prove their case beyond reasonable doubt, it is understandable why most victims either choose not to go through the criminal court system and suffer in silence, sign non-disclosure agreements and accept hush-money in place of seeking retribution or justice or pursue civil courts.

“This was just another Emmett Till situation.” This is the most preposterous comment I have seen on this issue and it came from a black woman who has a platform and who ought to know better. That man was free to pursue whatever woman he liked, from whatever race he liked, without prejudice. Such a statement ignores the very real power and influence of celebrity and is an insult to Emmett’s story. How dare you compare a 14-year-old unknown and powerless young boy in 1950’s America, to a successful, very well-known, loved, young and care-free, perhaps even reckless celebrity, with lots of money and access to high-powered attorneys? How does that even make sense? No one was trying to lynch that man for dealing with white women. Please stop it.

“She had semen of multiple men in her underwear.” Not true and even if it was, so what? Why do so many feel the need to poke holes in a victim’s story to suit their own narrative, instead of listening with the intention of addressing the perpetrator? We cannot continue in this vein and then in the same breathe ask why victims do not speak up sooner.

I close with this; when that TV personality who is a close friend of an iconic talk show mogul asked the loyal friend if she finds his legacy complicated because of the allegations, being a woman in the NBA, the loyal friend beautifully and very eloquently replied as any loyal friend would defending the person she knew and loved. It should have ended there. As a journalist, her job was done. As a loyal friend, so was hers. If the same energy that was then used to crucify and castigate the TV personality was used to address abuse and violence against women and girls in our families, in our homes, and within our communities, the world would already be a better place.

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