Bill Cosby walked free this week, after serving just 3 years of his prison sentence for sexual assault. The comedian was released when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court threw out his 2018 convictions for drugging and assaulting Andrea Constand. His conviction was tossed out not because Cosby was found to be innocent, but because of a legal technicality (The PA Supreme Court decided that the prosecutor in Cosby’s case was bound by his predecessor’s agreement not to charge the comedian).
I don’t want to get into legal debates here. I’m a sex expert, not a legal expert. But I do recognize and acknowledge the importance of every citizen—even those who have committed heinous crimes, like Cosby—to have impeccably fair trials. This is one of the founding principles our country was built on, and I am proud that we have so many ethical and dedicated civil servants who work everyday to ensure our courtrooms are as equitable and humane as possible.
And yes, Cosby is 80 years old and his eyesight is failing. Yes, his original sentence was no doubt a severe blow to his family and his fans.
But, you know what? The overturning of his conviction is also a severe blow to the millions of sexual abuse survivors in this country. When I heard Cosby was being released, my mind instantly flooded to all the many brave women I know who have suffered sexual abuse, and how this news would shake them and re-trigger their old wounds all over again. And indeed, it wasn’t long before I had friends texting me and I started seeing messages on Twitter and Instagram from survivors who were not just horrified by his sentence reversal, but by people who were further scalded by the way his colleagues and his fans were gloating about his newfound freedom.
Let’s be clear: Cosby isn’t innocent. So, to celebrate his release is not just in bad form and absolutely insulting, it’s also gravely dangerous, because it’s sending the message to victims that they shouldn’t ever bother reporting. That no one will ever believe them. That the cost of speaking up and going through a court case will never be worth the turmoil and emotional labor.
In other words, when we celebrate or defend or rationalize Cosby’s release, we are contributing to a world in which sexual predators can continue to walk free and more men, women, and children will be victimized by these criminals. We contribute to a world which encourages victims to live in shame and silence, we contribute to a world in which a man’s voice has more power and more credibility than a woman’s voice, we contribute to a world in which the wealthy and famous get priority treatment just because of their riches.
So please, when talking about the Cosby case online or with your friends or colleagues, be very careful about the words you choose. Because chances are, you are probably talking to at least one person who has been a victim of sexual assault or childhood sexual abuse. So when people like Phylicia Rashad downplay the effect of Cosby’s crimes or refuse to believe the resounding evidence and testimony against the man, you only contribute to a society in which those crimes can continue occuring.
This case has been emotionally relevant to so many victims not just because Cosby was ‘America’s Dad,’ but because it is a microcosm of everything that is wrong with the way we treat sexual abuse victims and the way we excuse and minimize sexually predatory behavior. So many victims have been shamed into silence by fearing no one would believe them because they had too many drinks, because they went to a party alone, because they went back to a guy’s room even though they didn’t want to have sex, because they didn’t report right away, because they weren’t the ‘perfect’ victim.
We all look back at our experiences of sexual assault and think ‘If only I did xyz differently,’ ‘If only I didn’t have that fourth drink,’ ‘If only I didn’t leave the party with him,’ or ‘If I only called the cops right away.’ But the reality is, no matter what, it was NEVER your fault. No matter what choices you made, no matter if you did drugs or had promiscuous sex in the past or flirted with your rapist, you’re never to blame for what a sexual predator did to you without your consent.
If you have been retriggered by this news about Cosby, please take some time today to really honor these precious and sacred truths: It wasn’t your fault. I believe you. I stand with you. You’re not alone. You’re not to blame. Your story matters.
As I digested the fact that Cosby was released, my mind went to Andrea Constand, and the way she boldly fought back against an incredibly powerful and beloved man who spent decades victimizing so many women, knowing that no one would ever believe their word over his.
She proved him wrong. She proved that truth does prevail over lies, that strength can be found even the darkest of times, and that no one has the right to touch your body without your consent.
And thanks to her powerful voice, she created a ripple effect which helped ignite the #MeToo movement and encourage so many women to speak out about their own traumatic experiences. Her truth and her light made space for other people to share their truth and their light, creating a deep opportunity for healing and authenticity.
And none of this was taken away by Cosby’s release. Not even a bit. He cannot dim one iota of the brightness and unity created by these women. So today, I wrap myself in that knowledge and remind myself that this battle wasn’t lost: It was won. It was won because these women got a chance to tell their stories. They got to take back their power and their dignity. And in doing so, they invited all other survivors to do the same.
That’s a victory for me. We still may want Cosby and other men like him behind bars, but for now, we can celebrate how far we have come and how resilient the human heart can be. Martin Luther King Jr. once famously said “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” I believe this is true, not just in this case, but in every case: We may not always get the justice and satisfaction we want right away, but if we keep the faith and keep working towards the light, the universe will repay our efforts tenfold. There is a bend with justice just around the corner. And to get there, we have to start changing the way we talk about sexual abuse, the way we treat victims, and the way we repsond to cases like these. We have so much more power than we know. Let’s use it for good, let’s work together to keep bending the arc of the universe towards justice.