Here we go again, with another bound-to-be-toxic-as-hell public discourse surrounding the trial of a famous man. Bill Cosby is facing new charges of sexual assault in New York state, where a “lookback law” allows a one-year suspension of the statute of limitations in sexual assault cases in the state. These laws usually apply to survivors who were children at the time of the offense, but the New York law allows adults to file suit, and five women have filed a lawsuit against Cosby and NBC, as four of the five allegations fall during the time Cosby was starring on The Cosby Show on NBC.
We’ve been litigating accusations against Bill Cosby for literal decades, in real courts and the court of public opinion, but things really picked up in 2014, when standup comedian Hannibal Buress talked about Cosby on stage. I don’t even want to say it’s a joke, because it really isn’t. He ends the tangent by saying, “When you leave here, google ‘Bill Cosby rape’,” and a lot of people did because the house of cards finally started falling after that. But then Cosby’s 2018 conviction was thrown out by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2021, and it seemed justice would, once again, be denied. So the New York case is a kind of do-over, not justice for Andrea Constand, the survivor involved in that case, but at least a chance to try Cosby again. There’s certainly no shortage of women he has (allegedly) harmed.
But since his previous conviction was tossed, on a technicality involving a prosecutor’s agreement to not pursue criminal charges in exchange for civil litigation depositions, I wonder if the media will bother with nuance, or if we’re starting back at square one with Bill Cosby the Teflon man to whom no bad words stick. Over the last year, I’ve been surprised by how many people don’t realize Cosby’s conviction was dismissed on a technicality, essentially a disagreement about whether or not a new prosecutor is bound to the previous prosecutor’s promises, if, indeed, any such promise even existed. But people hear “conviction dismissed” and assume it must be some kind evidentiary finding, that something was found to be false, or new evidence came to light proving Cosby’s innocence. Like there’s a CSI moment clearing his name. But no, it’s just down to an argument about what words mean.
I don’t know that there’s any “himpathy” left for Bill Cosby. There have been SO many allegations against him, and enough information is out there to establish a pattern of predatory behavior. But the spate of legal setbacks faced by survivors in court recently is a bit disheartening. Danny Masterson’s trial in Los Angeles ended in a mistrial after the jury deadlocked. Anthony Rapp lost his civil suit against Kevin Spacey, the jury took only eighty minutes to deliberate. On the other side of that coin, the jury in Harvey Weinstein’s Los Angeles trial—he’s already been convicted in New York—is entering its fifth day of deliberations. It just shows HOW hard it is to get justice in these cases, and every mistrial or loss feels like a win for the people who will insist every allegation is really about money. I mean, that’s literally the line Cosby’s lawyer is throwing out, that the new allegations are “ALL ABOUT MONEY”.
It feels like we’re backsliding on whatever gains have been made over the last few years in terms of public empathy and understanding. Or maybe it’s that the legal system simply can’t keep up, that the wheels of change move especially slowly in the halls of justice. Lookback laws are an attempt at progress, to acknowledge that, especially in sexual assault cases, it can take years for survivors to come forward. But at the end of the day, you still end up with people trying cases in the same courts that put all the burden on survivors to prove they were harmed, not on predators to prove they aren’t harmful. I don’t know how to fix it, but something has shifted, and the reporting around these cases has gone from “finally, justice” to “this sh-t again” (never mind how they get covered if the victim isn’t perfect). It just feels like, five years after #MeToo took off, we haven’t gotten very far.
Live long and gossip,