Nearly 40 women have accused comedian Bill Cosby of drugging and sexually assaulting them.
Cosby has steadfastly denied these allegations and there are as many high profile defenders as there are detractors.
The alleged assaults were said to have taken place throughout Cosby's career but only within the past several months been a national story. The multiple accusations against the 77-year-old Cosby have underscored and brought to light the issue of rape and rape culture in our society.
Whether you believe in Bill Cosby's guilt or innocence the debate has triggered a much more open discussion about what rape is, and what "rape culture" means.
Rape culture is defined as the pervasive and normalizing of rape due to societal attitudes about gender and sexuality. It's perpetuated by victim blaming, sexual objectification and the trivialization of rape, victims of rape and the harm it does both in a society and to the culture as a whole.
A lot of who we are as a society continues to reinforce rape culture, media imagery, television and movies have done little to affect how rape is seen, how it is dealt with and has added more to the stigma surrounding victims.
Even the laws we attempt to pass speak to how we view and accept rape as an inevitability, even narrowing the definition to suit political gains. The "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act" that Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) introduced in early 2011 is a glaring example of how our laws diminish the severity and definition of rape.
Congressman Smith sought to define rape, for the purposes of an anti-abortion bill, as "forcible rape," therefore excluding non-consensual sex and statutory rape. That narrowing of what should be a broad-based definition is a very dangerous precedent that could have had a huge effect on the amount of women, children and others who come forth and prosecute.
The bill also puts the focus not on prevention of the act but draws attention to the severity of the victims resistance.
If we were to say 1 in 5 kids are molested it would be a national nightmare, it would be cause for country-wide alarm but 1 in 5 American women surviving rape or attempted rape is considered a cultural norm and isn’t something that is looked upon in terms of a national epidemic.
Another staggering fact based on data by the Department of Justice is that 97% of rapists never spend a single day in jail for their crimes.
The Department of Justice broke down their 97% statistic by noting that 46 out of 100 rapes do not get reported and of the ones that do only 12 actually lead to an arrest, and of those 12, 9 are prosecuted, 5 are convicted of a felony and 2 of those 5 actually land in prison.
It’s laughable to say that the issue isn’t systemic, societal and in a lot of ways cultural.
The amount of people unclear on just what rape is seems to be growing and rape is even downplayed in our own day to day conversations.
Men and even some women seem to have a hard time grasping the concept of consent and what it means to be raped without saying "No". The law states that a person who is asleep or mentally or physically incapacitated, either through the effect of drugs or alcohol or for any other reason, is not capable of giving valid consent.
Unfortunately there are those who have mistaken a "non-no" as a yes, there are even those that seek out women who are drunk, under the influence of drugs or even passed out - most of those men do not consider this rape.
Also unfortunate is for how many years this very predicament was deemed acceptable, watch a movie from from the 70's, 80's or even 90's - this behavior was actually glorified and now it has seeped into our collective mindset as being "OK".
Phrases like "She shouldn’t have had so much to drink…" or "she shouldn’t have taken those drugs…" created a climate of acceptance and tolerance for rape and sexual assault.
Even with restructuring and rewording of existing laws to address non-violent rape occurrences and despite the clarity of the laws that now state that rape and force are not mutually exclusive - these phrases and ideals are still pervasive and commonly used to justify victimization.
Clearly, the hurdles to overcome with regard to rape and sexual assault are as many as they are challenging. The hope is that societal and cultural roadblocks will cease to impeded the progress the law intends to make.
We still have a ways to go.