The Bill Cosby guilty verdict took 50 women speaking out.

The Bill Cosby guilty verdict took 50 women speaking out.

A jury in the US has found Bill Cosby guilty of drugging and sexually molesting a woman at his home in 2004.

It came after a two-week trial which included testimony from five other women who said that Cosby had drugged and violated them, too. It came after the prosecutor’s first trial ended with a hung jury less than a year ago. Not so this time: seven men and five women reached a unanimous verdict after deliberating for two days.

Cosby will be sentenced at a later date but could get up to 10 years in prison on each of the three counts of aggravated indecent assault.

It is impossible to overstate the significance of the verdict.

“Justice has been done!” lawyer Gloria Allred, who represented some of Cosby’s accusers, declared afterwards on the courthouse steps.

Indeed and to say it’s been a long time coming is an understatement. It has taken decades and 50 individual women speaking out: persisting in the face of ridicule, of unrelenting legal and personal threats.

It is an overdue reckoning, representing a victory not just for Andrea Constand the woman the jury concluded Cosby had violated, but for the multitudes of other women whom have accused him of sexual assault. Women who were ignored and dismissed and rebuffed for decades.

It is justice not just for these women but for victims of sexual assault everywhere.
Bill Cosby, once the undisputed darling of American television, is the protagonist here but this story and this verdict resonate well beyond Hollywood.

It displaces, temporarily, the toxic truth that pervades rape regardless of where it takes place: we are more inclined to believe men who are accused of rape than we are to believe the victims of this crime.

As with Harvey Weinstein, the most shocking thing is not that Bill Cosby has been accused of raping and sexually assaulting dozens and dozens of women. Far more shocking is that it took decades and decades for anyone to listen to these women, let alone believe them.

Finally, today, these women have been heard and they have been believed in a court room by a jury. Finally there are consequences for a powerful perpetrator.

In July of 2015 the New York Magazine shot a cover with 35 women sitting in chairs staring down the lens. These women shared an unfortunate fate: they were all victims of sexual assault at the hands of America’s erstwhile favourite comedian. One chair remained empty, a tragic nod to the fact other victims- many more – exist.

Some of the 35 women were raped, almost all were drugged, and all of them struggled to be heard.

The New York magazine feature marked a turning point: the fact it was commissioned and published at all was proof of that. Back in 2004, several major publications scrapped planned features with the stories from victims and instead ran exclusives telling Cosby’s side of the story.

The New York headline was powerful and telling: ‘I’m No Longer Afraid’: 35 Women Tell Their Stories About Being Assaulted by Bill Cosby, and the Culture That Wouldn’t Listen.

It was the comedian Hannibal Buress who effectively set Cosby’s trajectory towards accountability into motion by speaking out. He said it was inexplicable that Cosby’s image was “public Teflon” despite years and years of mounting accusations.

He asked audiences: “How is this upsetting shit okay?”

It’s not. Raping, drugging and assaulting women is never okay. It wasn’t okay then and it’s not okay now.

But this didn’t appear to deter Cosby any more than it deterred Weinstein. Both appear to have abused their positions of power to abuse the bodies of whomever they choose with impunity.

It is alleged that Cosby explicitly told some of his victims there was no point in speaking out.

“No one would believe you. So why speak up?”

Cosby was right and for a long long time many didn’t speak up and those who did, weren’t believed.

Speaking up is a proposition many victims will decline because even right now in 2018, in the post #MeToo world, it is brutal.

In Cosby’s trial the defence, predictably, framed Andrea Constand as a pathological liar seeking financial gain. It is, far too often, the default when victims of sexual assault speak out. Scepticism and suspicion regarding the veracity and motives of a complainant of sexual violation are the first ports of call. Even in Australia when a litany of women publicly outlined the vulgar indiscretions of Don Burke there were those who cried ‘witch hunt’.

It is entirely dispiriting. A culture that reflexively believes a man accused of crimes including rape and assault when dozens and dozens of women share the same story of the same crime is deeply flawed. And it’s the culture we have inhabited too long.

One verdict in one criminal trial doesn’t change that but it does give hope that it might change. Hope that individuals who are abused or assaulted or violated by a person might not just be heard and not merely believed, but also delivered justice.

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