What We Can Learn From Bill Cosby Being Charged With Sexual Assault

I was interested to note that Bill Cosby has been charged with sexual assault, stemming from an incident which allegedly occurred in 2004. He’s been accused by over forty women of drugging and then sexually assaulting them, but in most of these cases, charges couldn’t be laid due to the alleged events being past the statute of limitations.

Finally, Mr. Cosby will have to face his accuser in a court of law and be held accountable for his actions. It’s almost anticlimactic, as there have been so many accusations and counter-accusations, especially over the past year, ever since the comedian Hannibal Buress accused Mr. Cosby of being a rapist and a hypocrite.

It struck me as very telling that it took a man calling out Mr. Cosby for his alleged actions to bring this matter to the attention of the public. It also struck me as telling that Andrea Costand, the woman who’s now taking Mr. Cosby to court for sexual assault, had tried to bring charges against him in 2005, a year after the alleged assault, but then-district attorney Bruce Castor chose not to charge Mr. Cosby at that time.

In an article in Bloomberg Politics by Lisa DePaulo, the author quotes Neil Oxman, a Democratic consultant, who said about Mr. Castor, “Most people think he made the right decision on the evidence he had,” but I wonder if the real reason not to prosecute was more along the lines of what James Baumbach, another political operative and Democratic attorney was quoted as saying in this article.

In Ms. DePaulo’s article, it appeared that Mr. Baumbach was suggesting that the alleged victims of Mr. Cosby who’d kept silent over the years had most likely been afraid of reprisals for bringing their cases forward, and that Mr. Castor… “must have thought, ‘What if I take on this icon and lose?’ Thus, he was no different than those women.”

I’ve been writing about the politics of sexual assault for a while now, and it seems apparent that for a woman who’s been sexually assaulted, the decision to go to the police and to press charges is fraught with complications. She not only has to consider the discomfort of her assault becoming public knowledge, but she must face the daunting possibility that her reputation will be dragged through the mud by the defendant’s attorney; that the DA will choose, as Mr. Coster did, not to prosecute, or that the judge will find for the defendant.

Although it’s 2015, the legal system still is in the dark ages when it comes to charging and convicting men of the sexual assault of women. This is most evident when the man is wealthy, powerful, famous, or all of the above.

In a previous article for Huffington Post, on what happens to women who accuse men of power or status with sexual assault, I quote the attorney Jeff Herman, who works with victims of these types of assault and who said: “Holding powerful men to account is rife with challenges. The scales of justice are tipped in favor of the powerful before a case even reaches the courtroom.” He continued: “The public almost always sides with celebrity, and social media often unleashes an Internet-fueled public backlash, debilitating victims once they do come forward.”

It’s my opinion that the legal system itself has systematically failed women when it didn’t pursue charges against men accused of sexual assault, when men were acquitted who, by all accounts, were guilty as charged, or when sentences for men convicted of sexual assault were nothing more than a slap on the wrist.

It’s good news that Ms. Costand will finally get a chance to face her alleged assailant in court, but I’m reserving judgement until the case has been tried and the final decision has been made. I’m hoping that this case sets a precedent, not just for the women who’ve accused Mr. Cosby of sexual assault, but for all the women who’ve tried to bring their cases of sexual assault forward and who were denied the opportunity to seek or obtain justice in the courts.

I’m hoping that if Mr. Cosby is found guilty for the assault against Ms. Costand, the police and District attorneys will be more diligent in their roles as public protectors, and the courts will begin to rule more equitably with regard to women who’ve experienced sexual assault.

I look forward to watching how this case plays out, as it has the potential to be a milestone in achieving a greater level of equity in the legal system that so many women, whether victims of sexual assault or merely in solidarity with other women, have been wishing for.

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