Bill Cosby’s Overturned Conviction Shakes Feminists and Allies: “Justice Is Still Very Elusive for Survivors of Sexual Assault”

While Cosby’s original conviction was a victory for the #MeToo movement, the reversal of the decision has shaken many survivors and advocates.

The March Against Rape Culture and Gender Inequality in March 2012 in Boston. (Chase Carter / Flickr)

Bill Cosby, the famed comedian who has been accused of sexual misconduct by 60 women, was released from prison on Wednesday, June 30. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania overturned his conviction on a technicality, claiming his right to due process was violated during the trial. Despite having previously admitted to drugging women with intent to pursue a sexual encounter, Cosby cannot be retried. Therefore, he now goes free at the age of 83, having served just under three years of his three- to 10-year sentence.

As a high-profile celebrity, Cosby’s conviction in 2018 was met with surprise and seen as a victory for survivors. Cosby’s trial was one of the first and most prominent of the #MeToo movement, along with the high-profile Harvey Weinstein case

Cosby’s Accusers Speak Out

In the aftermath of Cosby’s release, many of the women who spoke out against Cosby expressed frustration and disappointment. 

“I’m wondering what the purpose was of the 43 years of this ordeal and the trauma that I had and the trauma that my family endured as a result,” said Patricia Steuer, who accused Cosby of assaulting her in the 1970s. 

“I feel personally, and I know that I can speak for all of us, that we’ve been thrown under the bus. What is the worth of a woman, you know? It really kind of comes down to that,” said Victoria Valentino, one of Cosby’s accusers. “His rights were violated. What about ours? What about our rights to live and breathe and trust and live without being drugged and raped by someone who said that they were trustworthy, someone who endeared themselves to you out of some kind of compassion?”

Andrea Constand, whose case led to Cosby’s conviction, released a statement with her lawyers expressing concern that the results of the case would prevent others from seeking justice for sexual assault.

Advocacy Groups Express Disappointment

“Bill Cosby is free on a technicality, but the women he assaulted, who bravely came forward to bring him to justice, are suffering anew. They thought they had finally achieved some limited measure of closure—and now this. Sexual predators like Bill Cosby have benefited for too many years from a legal system designed for their benefit—and against their survivors.”

National Organization for Women

TIME’S UP, an organization dedicated to working against gender discrimination in the workplace, released a statement supporting survivors.

“We are deeply disappointed in today’s ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and by the message this decision sends to the brave survivors who came forward to seek justice for what Bill Cosby did to them. This is not justice.”


Survivors and Allies Stand In Solidarity

While Cosby’s original conviction was a victory for the #MeToo movement, the reversal of the decision has shaken many survivors and advocates, who already have very little faith in the justice system

Anita Hill, renowned lawyer and academic who accused Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual misconduct during his Supreme Court confirmation trials, reiterated this point:

“The Cosby ruling demonstrates how failures in our criminal justice systems make accountability for sexual assault impossible. For decades, victims and survivors have called for reform in the way sexual assault cases are handled by police and prosecutors. But the dire need for improvement to our systems isn’t limited to criminal prosecutions. Sexual assault, harassment and extortion happens in workplaces every day. Systems that ensure accountability for powerful abusers, protect workers and prevent agreements that shield abusers are urgently needed in entertainment and other industries.”

“It’s really sending shockwaves through our survivor community,” Angela Rose, president and founder of Promoting Awareness Victim Empowerment, told NPR. “I fear that this is going to really hinder other survivors from coming forward.” 

Dr. Carolyn West, a domestic and sexual violence expert told The Lily, “My concern is that [the news] will create trauma and be triggering for other survivors. These high-profile cases tend to do that,” West said. “The take-home message is, consistently, that justice is still very elusive for survivors of sexual assault.”

In 2018, Constand wrote in her victim impact statement, “We may never know the full extent of his double life as a sexual predator but his decades-long reign of terror as a serial rapist is over.” While these words no longer ring as true, feminists everywhere are flocking together, standing in solidarity with not only Cosby’s accusers, but all victims of sexual violence. Looking towards the future, survivors and supporters are hopeful that such injustices are not only amended, but never committed again. 

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About and

Meredith Abdelnour is an editorial fellow for Ms. magazine. She studies English and Environmental Studies at Tulane University and enjoys crossword puzzles.
Khira Hickbottom is an editorial fellow with Ms. magazine and a rising junior student at Tulane University studying English and Africana Studies. Additionally, she is also presently interning at Birthmark Doula Collective doing research surrounding emergency preparedness for infant feeding. Khira loves roller skating, dill pickle chips, and bad reality television.