Editor’s Note: This article contains discussion of sexual assault.
Allegations against Bill Cosby first emerged in 2005 after Andrea Constand filed a lawsuit against him. Thirteen years later, on April 26, 2018, Bill Cosby was convicted of sexual assault. The time gap between these events is simply unacceptable. Since the first report, there are now over 60 women who have accused Cosby of sexual misconduct, including accusations of drugging, raping, and offering to pay women for sex acts. This misconduct allegedly began in the 1960s and has continued into the present.
Yesterday, Cosby was convicted of three counts of aggravated, indecent assault against Andrea Constand that occured 14 years ago — one of the only cases within the statute of limitations — in a courtroom filled with countless other victims of his actions. The maximum sentence for his convictions is 30 years. However, it seems more likely that he will serve much less.
Cosby is now 80 years old. He has lived his entire life up to this point as a free man, having escaped any repercussions for egregious actions spanning a period of 50 years. His ability to escape any punishment is not due to a lack of reports. Police reports and lawsuits accusing Cosby of sexual misconduct have been accumulating for years, though they have only recently made national news. Last summer, Cosby’s trial resulted in a hung jury, yet he continued to get away with accustions even within the past year. We have to ask ourselves why he was able to get away with so many accusations against him — ones that clearly indicate a pattern in his behavior — for such a long time.
This is a prime reason why a statute of limitations should not exist for sexual assault cases. The statute of limitations exists for many crimes to ensure that there are physical and eyewitness accounts that have not deteriorated over time, and these laws vary by state. While I understand that sometimes evidence can become questionable after a long period of time, the cost of having a statute of limitations for sexual assault is simply not worth the damage it can do to survivors.
Sexual assault is different from so many other types of crime by nature. Survivors of these crimes typically feel immense amounts of shame, denial, and fear; this is a natural reaction to being violated or abused. Furthermore, if the case makes it to trial, it is almost guaranteed that survivors will be required to take the stand and publicly tell and relive what happened to them, while opening themselves up to cross-examination designed to invalidate and sometimes personally attack the credibility of their story. Finally, because this country has a long history of victim-blaming, it is completely understandable why survivors would be hesitant to put themselves in a position to be harassed or not believed in such serious circumstances.
All these factors frequently delay or altogether prevent survivors from reporting sexual assault, which is why it is one of the most under-reported crimes in the U.S. It seems that most other serious crimes — such as kidnapping, major theft, and murder — do not have a statute of limitations. As a society, we need to ask ourselves why sexual assault is not included in this group. Does sexual assault not steal from the survivors? Does it not take away months, if not years, of victims’ lives? Why are we letting survivors of sexual assault watch their abusers escape punishment on technicalities, while they have suffered such atrocities?
Finally, it’s no secret that the rich and famous are heavily privileged in the American justice system. While the legal system in the U.S. is underfunded and lawyers can be so expensive that even individuals in the middle class struggle to afford them, there are billionaires who can afford all the high-powered lawyers and private investigators that they desire. Bill Cosby is just one example — others include Robert Blake, Kobe Bryant, Robert Richards IV, Vince Neil, Justin Bieber, Charlie Sheen, Harvey Weinstein, and — who could forget — Brock Turner. All these individuals either served a few weeks in jail with extreme preferential treatment or escaped jail altogether in exchange for a fine or for rehabilitation. We see a clear continuation of this pattern in Bill Cosby’s case.
Fortunately, the #MeToo movement has begun to address these crucial issues facing justice for sexual assault survivors, especially within Hollywood. Cosby was the first celebrity to stand trial for a sexual assault case since the #MeToo movement gained real momentum, and it undoubtedly played a role in Cosby’s conviction, especially considering that Cosby’s initial trial — which ended in a hung jury — occured before the #MeToo movement. While the defense team sought to delegitimize the women who testified against Cosby — and arguably the entire #MeToo movement — by claiming that Cosby could not be convicted based solely on emotional testimony and “mob rule,” the conviction symbolizes that the #MeToo movement has indeed affected the way individuals view sexual assault and has proven that survivors who stand together and speak out against injustice have and will continue to make a difference.
It is unacceptable that individuals who have committed sexual assault continue to escape justice on technicalities such as the statute of limitations, and that they are further able to dodge responsibility because of their wealth and privilege. It is unacceptable that Bill Cosby was not tried for his crimes when they were initially reported, and it is tragic that only one victim out of over 60 women was able to bring her accusations against him to the courtroom. Although he is certainly not the only one, Cosby serves as a prime and very modern example of the shortcomings of our legal system. The sheer amount of women who have come forward with accusations against him clearly displays the system’s bias against survivors of sexual assault and our bias in favor of their perpetrators. Additionally, the amount of years he was able to avoid prosecution and conviction is indicative of his privilege as a rich and prominent celebrity. Our system must do better. The United States cannot continue to fail sexual assault victims