Finally, Bill Cosby is facing felony charges of aggravated indecent assault for an encounter with a woman in 2004.
If you didn’t see this one coming, you’re not alone.
Charges were filed against Cosby in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, after new information surfaced in July that was relevant to the nearly 12-year-old case, according to The Washington Post.
Prosecutor Kevin Steele mapped out a timeline of events on Wednesday, claiming that the comedian befriended alleged victim Andrea Constand before making unwanted sexual advances, and then, in January 2004, using pills that “paralyzed” her before the assault. Constand’s account, although disturbing, is unfortunately not that unique.
Since the 1960s, dozens of women have claimed Cosby sexually assaulted them, many saying the comedian used drugs to do so.
But like so many other accusations against powerful, wealthy, influential, and (at least in this case) universally beloved people, these women faced steep uphill battles in seeking justice — even when the arguments defending Cosby were flat-out ridiculous (thank you, Amy Schumer, for pointing this out to us).
On Wednesday, however, the first battle for justice was won.
This first victory is a truly remarkable win for the brave women who decided to speak up. Why? Because by speaking up, they had to overcome these three barriers (and many others):
1. No one wanted to believe Dr. Cliff Huxtable could be capable of sexually assaulting numerous women.
But we have to remember: Mr. Cosby and Mr. Huxtable are not the same person.
The world fell in love with the Huxtables — “America’s first black family” — on “The Cosby Show,” with a beloved Bill steering the ship in the lead role.
“‘The Cosby Show’ debuted during the Reagan era, when the plagues of crack, AIDS, and spiraling homicide were ravaging African Americans,” Jelani Cobb of the University of Connecticut told Ebony magazine. “[‘The Cosby Show’ was] huge among black people because it was a counterpoint to the stream of negativity that we heard and saw about ourselves so frequently during those years.”
And it wasn’t just black people — America fell in love with Cosby and his Huxtable crew, making the show the country’s most-watched TV program for five of the eight seasons it aired on NBC.
Off-camera, Cosby’s advocacy in promoting education and children’s literature further cemented admiration for the trailblazing entertainer who was making the world a better place.
But humans aren’t one-dimensional characters. We have strengths and flaws. And even someone like Cosby — who used an A-list career and platform to do so much good — can also be capable of doing so much immeasurable harm.
The comedian the world fell in love with is not Mr. Huxtable. Challenging the world to realize that is a difficult feat these women had to take head on.
2. In many cases, time works against victims of sexual assault, unfairly so.
The allegations against Cosby are no different.
Statutes of limitations — laws that prevent someone from being charged with a crime if a certain number of years has passed since the crime occurred — often hinders a survivor’s chance at justice.
Across the country, 34 states have statutes of limitations when it comes to filing rape or sexual assault charges. Seeing as “rape is a crime of shame and humiliation” that keeps many victims from coming forward for years or even decades, as Yeshiva University’s Marci Hamilton explained, statutes of limitations frequently favor the violators.
And even if survivors do come forward right away, slow, bureaucratic processes within law enforcement can prevent justice from being served once the statutes expire, as rape survivor Mel Townsend learned the hard way back in 2008.
In Constand’s case, Cosby was just days away from being safe from any charges, as the alleged crime was committed in January 2004, and Pennsylvania has a 12-year statute of limitations when it comes to sexual assault instances like hers.
3. Celebrities oftentimes have a leg up in our supposedly blind justice system.
America loves its celebrities — so much so, we can’t stand the thought of putting them in jail.
“There are two criminal justice systems in the United States,” Matt Clarke wrote for Prison Legal News. “One is for people with wealth, fame or influence who can afford to hire top-notch attorneys and public relations firms, who make campaign contributions to sheriffs, legislators, and other elected officials, and who enjoy certain privileges due to their celebrity status or the size of their bank accounts. The other justice system is for everybody else.“
A celeb like Cosby doesn’t just have the best legal team money can buy, he also has the unique opportunity to belittle his accusers on a stage, in front of an audience of adoring fans who still think he’s as clever as ever.
Today doesn’t just mark a step forward for Andrea Constand. It’s a big win, and sign of hope, for brave women everywhere who’ve decided to speak up.
Coming out as a survivor of rape and sexual assault can be an incredibly difficult thing to do. Doing it when the violator is an A-list celebrity with millions of trusting fans? That’s a whole other ball game.
These women — and the countless others who’ve defended themselves in the face of injustice — deserve our respect and support.