By Juliet Bennett Rylah
LOS ANGELES — The release of entertainer Bill Cosby from prison on June 30 after the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court overturned his sexual assault conviction may deter other victims of sexual assault from coming forward, a women’s advocacy organization said.
“We know many survivors, who already face disbelief, blame, and threats of retaliation, are rightfully questioning why they should come forward against their abuser when there are so many public examples where the person who committed the abuse evades accountability,” said a statement issued by the National Sexual Violence Resources Center in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape.
“When people who sexually abuse others, like Cosby, are not held accountable or walk free, it directly or indirectly sends the message that sexual assault and its impact on victims is not taken seriously,” the statement added.
More than 60 women have accused Cosby, 83, of sexual assault or misconduct in incidents dating back to the 1960s.
His 2018 conviction stemmed from a 2004 incident in which former Temple University employee Andrea Constand said he drugged, then sexually assaulted her at his home in Pennsylvania. He was sentenced to three to 10 years in prison.
Constand previously had sued Cosby in civil court, resulting in a $3.38 million settlement in her favor. In 2005, former Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor told Cosby he wouldn’t be prosecuted in exchange for his deposition in Constand’s civil case, during which Cosby admitted he got a prescription for Quaaludes to give to women with whom he wanted to have sex.
The court ruled that because of Castor’s earlier words, prosecuting Cosby years later was a violation of his constitutional rights.
The decision is the result of a technicality and not a legal declaration of Cosby’s innocence. However, Cosby still issued a statement thanking fans, supporters, friends, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and saying that he’d “never changed my stance or story” and “always maintained my innocence.”
Constand released a statement with her attorneys, Dolores Troiani and Bebe Kivitz, saying that the decision was not only “disappointing,” but may discourage others from reporting or participating in the prosecution of their assailant, or “may force a victim to choose between filing either a criminal or civil action.”
While Cosby’s criminal prosecution may have ended, he is not free from further civil trials.
Attorney Gloria Allred, who represents 33 of Cosby’s accusers, said via a virtual press conference that she plans to move forward with a civil case on behalf of Judy Huth, who said Cosby molested her at the Playboy Mansion in 1974 when she was 15.
Huth’s suit was filed in 2014 but had been on hold following Cosby’s criminal charges. Now, Allred said they will be able to take deposition and Cosby won’t be able to invoke the Fifth Amendment because there are no pending criminal charges against him.
Allred has represented several accusers in high-profile cases and does not believe survivors will stop coming forward.
“We have to be brave,” she said. “It takes all of us to win change. We have to not let fear paralyze us so that predators continue to prey on victims hoping that they will be fearful that the system will not support them.”
Attorney Lisa Bloom, Allred’s daughter, represents model Janice Dickinson, who alleged that Cosby drugged and raped her in Lake Tahoe in 1982. Bloom said that Cosby’s release is “a punch in the gut to the victims.”
“I prepared Janice and watched her and the other supremely brave accusers testify that they were drugged and raped in his 2018 criminal trial,” Bloom said. “That trial resulted in only the smallest measure of justice against this man, accused by more than 60 women. And now that justice is taken away.”
Dickinson first came forward in 2014, then sued Cosby for defamation after he and his team called her a liar. She settled in 2019 for an undisclosed sum.
Bloom said that no one can take Dickinson’s civil court victory away and that the survivors she represents are now “even more determined” to fight for justice.
“If any victims have timely claims and they want to come forward now for a new prosecution or lawsuit, they should contact an attorney immediately,” she said.
Juliet Bennett Rylah is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.