award-winning educator, mental health advocate, social entrepreneur, inspirational speaker, author/writer, program executive, and radio host
*6/17/17 - Cosby trial ends in a hung jury, which results in a mistrial
* 4/26/18 - Cosby guilty on three counts: (1) penetration without consent, (2) penetration while unconscious, and (3) penetration after administrating an intoxicant. Each count is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, along with a $25,000 fine for each conviction.
Let me be clear, this article isn’t an attempt to minimize a serious issue and the unnecessary sexual assaults that occur in this country and countries around the world.
The shock of learning that Bill Cosby – someone who was a father-like figure during my formative years – is accused of horrible crimes is still dumbfounding. Then, the surreal moments of watching him enter a courthouse to be arraigned was more than disheartening. Now, I can only wait for the legal process in the Pennsylvania sexual assault case to reach its verdict to reflect on the outcome.
It’s said that under the U.S. legal system, anyone accused of a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law by a jury of their peers. However, it’s well-known that the court of public opinion usually, individually reaches its judgment much sooner. Public opinions once solidified can be very hard to change or remove from the psyche, along with having a lasting and negative impact on someone’s life whether or not the accused – via the evidence presented – is determined to be guilty. It’s important to note that all, available evidence isn’t always presented during court cases due to legal positioning and posturing, which might prevent bona fide data and material information (e.g., facts, issues, or witnesses) from being presented.
Bill Cosby, prior to his arraignment, was treated, responded to, and punished like a convicted man --- albeit based on the accounts of multiple accusers. Mr. Cosby’s family-friendly shows were removed from the air, an upcoming network show was nixed, his comedy tour was canceled, and he undoubtedly lost significant earning potential (current and future). As his losses continue to mount, the reality is that Mr. Cosby is only charged with these crimes; no evidence was presented against him in a court of law; there are only allegations. Fortunately, we live in a country that – generally speaking – no one should be convicted without an admission of guilt, a plea deal, or a trial --- even with all of these things, convictions don’t always mean the party is actually guilty or that justice was served.
Some questioned the reasons that Mr. Cosby continued to perform his comedy tour while being accused (not convicted) of alleged crimes. If you were him and you didn’t do these alleged, horrible, and atrocious sexual assaults, would you hide as someone who was guilty might do? Even though it can be extremely hard to face public scrutiny and innuendos, why would or should anyone who knows that their not guilty of the crime(s) accused unnecessarily hide?
The backlash, corporate responses, and financial impacts that have happened to Mr. Cosby as a result of only accusations aren’t fair under a system that provides that every person is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law by their peers. Alright, I know some individuals reading this will ask, what about the women who allegedly suffered indecencies, violations of their bodies, mental stress, and more? I understand that the emotional, physical, and psychological damages to someone who was sexually assaulted can be overwhelming, unbearable, and life-altering. Notwithstanding the impact to anyone who is sexually assaulted, there can be damaging and life-changing issues created by a rush to judgment, false accusations, and even worse convicting someone who isn’t guilty.
A documented case that serves as a poignant example is the notorious, questionable Rolling Stone's article and allegations about a still unknown woman named “Jackie” who detailed her experiences of being gang-raped. According to the Rolling Stone magazine’s retraction, Jackie’s accounts couldn’t be verified. In this case, the face of this woman who was the subject of this story has yet to be extensively displayed on media outlets. It’s a hypocritical process since a man’s face who is only accused of an alleged sexual assault is often blasted across various media outlets. Moreover, why wouldn’t this woman’s “real name” and picture be released? If “Jackie” provided (as documented by the Rolling Stone magazine’s retraction) information that might not be accurate or truthful, then she might do it again with a potentially negative, severe, and unjust impact to someone else; if it hasn’t already happened.
The issues with false allegations (such as the alleged ones in the Rolling Stone magazine article) is that these types of falsehoods endanger the legal process so that anyone (women or men) who is sexually assaulted isn’t believed or innocent people might be wrongly convicted.
I would be remiss if I didn’t address another factor that might be a motivator in the cases against Mr. Cosby, which is the potential for financial gain via civil suits. Again, some will ask, “Why would these women (or anyone) put themselves on display for potential public speculation, embarrassment, or humiliation? Without getting too engulfed in this question, individuals can be motivated for many different reasons --- especially if there are opportunities for financial gain.
Another issue that might be unavoidable given the nature of sex crimes is the release of a suspect’s picture (man or woman) based on an allegation. The risk is doing this is that a potentially innocent person’s reputation, future income, and quality of life can be permanently tarnished because of an unverified accusation. Moreover, allegations against someone will remain in the public domain and can damage an accused’s reputation for countless years. If someone isn’t charged or is determined to be not guilty (not always innocent) through a legal process, then there must also be a process and communications effort to lessen the impact of earlier reports and damages to their future based on unverified or unproven alleged crimes.
Too many (women and men) are forced to engage in, submit to, and suffer through nonconsensual sexual encounters who don’t always tell anyone about it, suffer in silence, deal with long-term mental affects, and experience the impacts in other parts of their lives. Consequently, societies around the world must actively address these deplorable acts and reprehensible issues that can be reduced through education, cultural changes, support of victims without blaming or shaming, and teaching that silence only protects the abusers while leaving those abused silently and sometimes continuously victimized.
For the women who (if true) were assaulted, I hope that you receive justice, mental healing, and the release of any pain that might have already imprisoned you (mentally and physically) for way too long.
As for Mr. Cosby, if the allegations against you are true, then you need to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. If the allegations aren’t true, then media outlets and those who stripped you of various recognitions (e.g., honorary degrees) should work just as vigilantly to restore your reputation as was done to tarnish it without any verifiable proof.
Regardless of the outcome of the cases against Mr. Cosby, I hope that more will be done to educate, protect, comfort, support, and heal anyone who is or was a victim of any types of needless assaults --- sexual, mental, or physical.