Hollaback! Bahamas was utterly dismayed to learn that proceeds of the Bill Cosby event held in the Atlantis Live Theatre – hosted by the Nassau Chapter of The Links, Incorporated – would fund a women’s safe house. Whether or not Cosby has been tried and found guilty, rape allegations and the dignity of those reporting them must be taken seriously. National President Glenda Newell-Harris called the accusations “alarming and unsettling” in a statement. She went on to say that the organization “believes in the judicial system of the United States” and would not comment further.
As a part of a global movement and non-profit organization rooted in storytelling, our mandate is to honour the stories of the people who share them, support them through the process, stand in the gap for them to demand justice and respect, and direct them to available resources. As such, it is necessary to have this conversation both openly and honestly.
While Cosby refuses to comment, women continue to come forward to share their painful, personal stories, igniting a global dialogue about sexual assault, issues of reporting, power dynamics, the law – specifically the statute of limitations – and victim shaming. One might expect greater sensitivity and responsibility from organizations operating in The Bahamas where sexual assault is a scourge of society, suffered by many who maintain their silence.
The Bahamas had the highest per capita rate of rape in the world according to the 2007 UN/World Bank report on crime, and continues to see abuse of power manifested as sexual assault. The country continues to see the abuse of power by men, parents and guardians, caretakers, and religious leaders. In 2011, for example, former Bishop Randy Fraser was found guilty of unlawful sex with a 16 year old girl he was counseling.
Perhaps the 2002 vote against making marital rape illegal should have been an indicator of the Bahamian people’s view of consent, body autonomy, and male privilege. The non-joke about domestic abuse by Leslie Miller, M.P. in the House of Assembly earlier this year and the (lack of) public response was certainly another clear indicator of the willingness of the Bahamian people to ignore the ongoing violations of human rights and the law.
As we continue to lobby for a sexual offenders court, an amber alert system for missing children, and a sexual offenders registry, more is expected of civic organizations and individuals who purport to be proponents and advocates of human rights, equality, and justice. We must all be held to a higher standard.
It is unfathomable to Hollaback! Bahamas that the use of proceeds from the comedy show to fund a women’s safe house could possibly pay penance to survivors of sexual assault who have reported, have not reported, and continue to consider reporting crimes against them.
How could one seek refuge in a place that is partly funded by a few hours of jokes or talks on morality from a man accused of rape by more than 15 women? We are unable to reconcile the two, and do not believe any woman should ever have to do so. TV Land, NBC, and Netflix will not force their viewers to choose. Why should a safe house force those who seek refuge to make such a moral decision? Why would a local women’s organization choose to play an active role in what could be Cosby’s honeymoon phase?
It is our hope that the organization raising money for a safe house will reject funds from this event as a matter of respect for survivors of sexual assault and the sanctity of their relationship with them.