Like many, I learned of Bill Cosby’s crimes when dozens of women came forward to accuse him of sexual assault. I scoured the Internet for traces of information that corroborated his victim’s stories, reading over court documents and early news articles.
I spoke to an advocate with personal ties to one of Cosby’s victims, a woman who remained silent during the latest wave of accusations, unwilling to face media scrutiny.
It was easy to identify with Cosby’s victims. I understand experiencing sexual violence and being abused by a man in power. I survived rape and an unsuccessful attempt to prosecute the man who beat me and held me at knifepoint. I live with the scars from the attack on my body. I know women’s lives are undervalued in our society.
Some men have a God complex. While I was married to a man in public office, he threatened to harm me and separate me from our children if I told anyone about his abuse. “No one will believe your word over mine,” he’d often say, “You are a nobody.”
I knew it was true. I can only imagine what he would have been capable of if he had the money and influence of a man like Bill Cosby.
Protected by wealth and celebrity, Cosby was able to commit sexual assault and avoid legal prosecution for decades. Though his crimes were an open secret in Hollywood, his public legacy as a beloved comedian and actor remained firmy intact.
In 2014, a comedic performance by Hannibal Buress went viral. In it, Buress painted Cosby as a known rapist, raising public awareness about previous allegations.
By 2015, dozens of women had come forward publicly accusing Cosby of sexual assault. Many of their cases exceeded the legal statute of limitations in their state. One case was eligible to move forward in a court of law, and in June 2017, Bill Cosby stood trial for drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand.
In a 2005 civil suit, Constand testified Cosby invited her to his home under the guise of providing professional advice and sexually assaulted her after drugging her. Despite openly admitting to acquiring Quaaludes to give to women he wanted to have sex with, Cosby was portrayed as a victim of racial injustice and Andrea Constand was largely branded as a sexually promiscuous liar and a gold digger.
The $3.4 million dollars she won as a result of her civil suit was used as justification to discredit her story and annihilate her personal character. The criminal sexual assault trial that followed in 2017 concluded with a hung jury.
But in just a few months later, in October, the #MeToo Movement revolutionized the way the public viewed powerful men in Hollywood. After producer Harvey Weinstein was outed as a serial sexual predator accused of victimizing popular Hollywood actresses, the untoward actions of other famous men came to light. Since then, Charlie Rose, Kevin Spacey, Tavis Smiley, Matt Lauer, Casey Affleck, Steven Seagal, Russell Simmons, James Franco, Louis C.K., Ben Vereen and Ryan Seacrest have joined the growing list of celebrity men accused of sexual harassment, sexual assault and sexual misconduct.
Many hoped the #MeToo Movement would impact the outcome of Cosby’s retrial, and this time around, the prosecution was permitted to include the testimony of five more victims. After 12 days of testimony and two days of deliberation, the jury returned with a guilty verdict.
After an unprecedented legal battle, “America’s Favorite Dad” was convicted of three counts of aggravated indecent assault, saddled with bail of $1 million dollars and told to remain on house arrest while awaiting sentencing.
“I feel like my faith in humanity has been restored,” cried Lili Bernard as she descended the steps outside the courthouse in Norristown, Pa., following the verdict.
“I stand here to take back my power and to confront the fear that has paralyzed me for so many years,” Bernard said in a 2015 news conference alongside attorney Gloria Allred. A former guest-star on “The Cosby Show,” Bernard accused the comedy legend of drugging and raping her in the early 1990s.
It took more than 60 accusers, but Cosby has finally been held criminally liable. He is the first Hollywood star to undergo due process for his sex crimes since the #MeToo social movement took off. His verdict marks a pivotal moment in history.
Cosby’s guilty verdict is the culmination of tireless efforts by victims who refused to be silenced and legal advocates willing to believe them. The case represents what it means to overcome insurmountable obstacles to achieve justice. The verdict suggests women’s collective voices have begun to change the tide and months of raising awareness about the prevalence of sexual violence, highlighting how harmful sexual predators are to society and putting pressure on authorities to hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes has started to change public consciousness about rape culture.
Victims of sexual violence want retribution. We are ready to move beyond hashtag activism and see perpetrators brought to justice in the court system. Witnessing a powerful man held accountable for his crimes sparked hope in the hearts of survivors who thought it impossible to receive legal justice.
Constand waived her opportunity to address the press during a post-trial press conference, but through criminal proceedings we heard her voice loud and clear. Her journey for legal justice began 13 years ago. She stood in her truth, despite threats and attacks to her personal character, knowing she did not march alone, but with the support of other women who were victimized by Cosby.