He was found guilty, but the system is still stacked against victims.
It was incredibly emotional to watch his accusers collapse in tears after the trial and to hear one of them tell reporters in a choked-up voice, “I feel like I’m dreaming. Can you pinch me?” The more than 60 women who have accused Cosby of sexual misconduct expressed relief to the media, and many people touted the verdict as a milestone on Twitter.
“We did it. We won. We beat Goliath,” Heidi Thomas, who accused Cosby of sexually assaulting her in 1984, said on CNN.
There are many, many reasons to celebrate this verdict. Most sexual assault victims have terrible experiences with the legal system. Police and prosecutors often judge or dismiss them, and in the few cases that make it to trial, the defense often retraumatizes, shames and attacks the victims on the witness stand.
Conviction rates for these crimes are notoriously low, and it’s more than likely that at the end of a long, painful process, the jury will side with the defendant. The Cosby verdict, along with the conviction of former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar for sexually assaulting over 260 women and girls, sends a very important and high-profile message: that judges and jurors may start believing victims.
While that message is extremely important in encouraging more survivors to come forward, this victory should be put in perspective. The legal system is still stacked against victims, and a high-profile guilty verdict is not enough to shift a legal culture that treats complainants as if they were the ones on trial.
Cosby’s sexual assault case was unique. A first trial ended in a mistrial 10 months ago, which means jurors in the retrial already knew about the lawsuit and were likely aware of the wave of sexual predators the Me Too movement has exposed. The judge allowed testimony from five other women who accused the comedian of sexual assault — an anomaly for most cases — which buttressed complainant Andrea Constand’s allegations and establish that the criminal behavior was part of a pattern.