Bill Cosby’s sexual assault trial wasn’t a #MeToo case, per se. It had been pending for years and had already gone through a first trial that ended in a hung jury last June. Nor was it even the first high-profile sexual misconduct conviction of the post-Harvey Weinstein era. It was preceded, for instance, by the trial and sentencing of Larry Nassar, the Team USA gymnastics physician who molested scores of girls in his care.
Nonetheless, the guilty verdict Thursday is a tremendous event, perhaps even a watershed moment for women whose stories of sexual misconduct — from rape to on-the-job harassment — have too often and for too long been downplayed or even ignored.
Now, at a time when women around the country are coming forward to talk about sexual harassment, sexual assault, casual sexism, pay inequity and second-class treatment, this conviction holds out a ray of hope. For those whose rape and assault complaints have not been taken seriously, whose accusations have not been investigated, whose character has been assassinated and whose motivations and morality have been questioned for decades in criminal courtrooms — this verdict suggests that even the most powerful offenders can be held to account for their misdeeds.
As in so many cases for so many years, this one turned on the credibility of the accuser. Was Andrea Constand a liar and a “con artist,” as the defense maintained, when she said that Cosby drugged and assaulted her? Was she a deceitful fortune-seeker who thought she’d found an easy mark?
The jury said no.
The jury was charged, of course, with determining the truth or falsity only of Constand’s accusations, on the basis of the evidence presented in court. Cosby was not being tried for all the other accusations against him by the more than 50 other women who have come forward with similar stories of pre-meditated rape and sexual assault. (Many of the others alleged assaults happened decades ago, and the statute of limitations for bringing charges has expired.)
This time, a woman was able to tell her story and persuade a jury even in the face of a vicious counter-narrative by a powerful man.
But in the court of public opinion, at least, this was not just about Cosby versus Constand. It was about all the creepily similar accusations, about all the women who said they were violated by this man. To those of us who were not in the courtroom, Constand was a proxy for those women, and in some ways, for all women.
“We are vindicated. We are validated,” said Cosby accuser Janice Baker-Kinney shortly after the verdict, who added: “We are not shutting up and we’re not going away. Get over it.” An emotional Lili Bernard, a former actress who said Cosby drugged and raped her in the ’90s, put a finer point on it: “Today this jury has shown what this #MeToo movement has been saying, that women are worthy of being believed.”
It’s depressing how many women have felt powerless for so long to confront sexual abuse, harassment and discrimination. But it’s heartening to know that this time, a woman was able to tell her story and persuade a jury even in the face of a vicious counter-narrative by a powerful man.