This week, 81-year-old television and film star Bill Cosby was sentenced to three to 10 years in prison for the drugging and sexual assault of Andrea Constand in 2004. Constand was not Cosby’s only victim: Sixty women have come forward to accuse the man formerly known as “America’s Dad” with incapacitating them and raping them.
According to RAINN, only six out of every 1,000 rapists end up in prison for their crimes and only one third of assault cases are reported to police. The reasons for this are varied but by and large, abuse victims generally believe their abuser will further hurt them, or that they will not be believed, or in cases like Cosby’s, a statute of limitations have run out.
For those who do end up in court (RAINN reports that’s less than 13 out of every 1,000 cases that are reported), judges and juries find that lack of “evidence” (read, witnesses), or personal biases against what actually constitute rape or other sexual crimes vary. Meaning that often, in juried trials, if a man, say, exposes himself to a woman while making a joke, some of the jurists may believe that the defendant was just acting in a comic way, not a criminal one.
Victims are also often attacked by defense on the stand. Their sexual histories, intoxication levels, even their recollections are called into question—re-victimizing them on the stand. What stands out in Cosby’s conviction, however, is that the tangible evidence of being drugged by the comedian was what really enraged people.
It seems that it’s only because of Cosby’s use of sedatives that Condstand saw justice, and not because of her testimony.
While men like Brett Kavanaugh and President Trump seem to face few consequences over alleged assaults, Cosby’s downfall was his use of Quaaludes and Benadryl to incapacitate his victims. In 2004, when Constand first confronted Cosby, he acknowledged that he had several prescriptions for the sedative drugs that he would give women before having sex with them. He maintains his denial that the drugging and sex were non-consensual.
If Cosby had not used drugs to incapacitate his victims, chances are, the he-said-she-said back and forth that we normally see in sexual assault trials would result in his freedom. Victims are not readily believed by courts, juries or the public. It seems that it’s only because of Cosby’s use of sedatives that Constand saw justice, and not because of her testimony.
Men like Harvey Weinstein and R. Kelly are alleged to have perpetrated heinously violent and damaging acts against their victims, but because the result of their abuse can’t be qualified the way that a drugging can, these men may not receive the same harsh sentencing as Cosby has. This is a failure of our legal system, which appears seemingly designed to fail victims.
Despite the dialogue supporting victims that the #MeToo movement has inspired, society in general has ingrained inaccurate ideas about victims of sexual assault. Many people still think that survivors are somehow to blame, or that if a victim doesn’t behave in an acceptable way that their allegations are false.
Although it may seem like a victory, Cosby’s guilty verdict should act as a warning that we need to do better for victims. This starts by teaching consent early on, by having perpetrators of abuse truly be held accountable for their crimes, and by believing victims when they say they have been abused.
Otherwise, Cosby’s sentencing isn’t a victory, it’s a blip.