Bill Cosby is the first celebrity to be convicted and sentenced following the #MeToo movement around sexual assault which emerged in 2017.
Over the past five decades, 62 women have come forward and publicly accused Bill Cosby of drugging and assaulting them on the pretext of helping their careers. Of raping them as they lay unconscious. Of being a sexual predator.
However, statute of limitation laws mean that only one charge has ever been brought to trial: a horrific incident from 2004, in which Cosby drugged and assaulted Andrea Constand, an employee who Cosby mentored at Temple University, Philadelphia.
Earlier this year, Cosby was found guilty of three counts of aggravated sexual assault. And now, in the final chapter in his long-running fall from grace, Cosby has been sentenced to three to 10 years in state prison – which means that he could end up spending his final years behind bars.
This verdict has been a long, long time coming. Not only do the accusations against Cosby date back to the Eighties, when he was starring in The Bill Cosby Show, but this is the second time the actor has stood trial for assaulting Constand: an earlier jury failed to reach a verdict in June 2017 after 52 hours of deliberation.
That hung jury only served to fuel Cosby’s arrogance. He rashly vowed that he would that he would, going forward, be “educating people about sexual assault” – and teaching “young athletes and married men how to avoid accusations when they are doing certain things they shouldn’t be doing”.
So what has changed between now and then?
Well, at some point between Cosby’s first trial and his second, the #MeToo movement caught fire. Which means that, in many ways, Cosby’s retrial took place in a completely different world – one in which we are all too aware of the fact that men take advantage of women every day, in every walk of life, and are rarely brought to justice.
This shift in thinking was made abundantly clear earlier this month, when Judge Steven O’Neill asked a room of 100-plus potential jurors if they were familiar with #MeToo.
“Do you have knowledge, have you read or seen anything about the #MeToo movement or the allegations of sexual misconduct in the entertainment industry?” he asked, according to the New York Times.
All of the potential jurors but one — 119 people — raised the cards they use to answer questions. Yes, they had heard of the #MeToo movement.
“This is very important,” Judge O’Neill said. “This will help us.”
This same judge, in another unprecedented move, went on to allow five of Cosby’s other accusers to serve as “prior bad acts” witnesses during the trial: Janice Baker-Kinney, Heidi Thomas, Chelan Lasha, Lise-Lotte Lublin and Janice Dickinson, all of whom said Cosby either gave them alcohol that was spiked or pills before assaulting them.
It was the testimony of Dickinson, a model and easily the best-known of these women, which made headlines earlier this year. She recalled an incident from 1982, when she was still trying to break into the world of acting.
Cosby offered her a “blue pill”, she said, which he promised would help with discomfort from menstrual cramps. It left her feeling “dizzy and woozy”, and she soon realised that she “couldn’t get the words out I wanted to say”.
“I was rendered motionless,” she said. “I was thinking ‘what the heck is he doing?’” Dickinson added that she woke up to realise that “America’s dad [was] on top of me… He was gross.”
Before she passed out, she said, she felt pain between her legs; when she awoke her buttocks ached.
Many have suggested that this cascade of survivors’ testimonies was the key to bringing down Cosby, once known as America’s most beloved father figure. That it helped the prosecution establish a pattern of misconduct. That, above all else, it reminded the jurors of the vital lessons that they, like so many others, had learned from the #MeToo movement.
As lawyer Gloria Allred, who represented the Cosby accusers, put it: “Finally, we can say women are believed, not only on the hashtag #MeToo, but in a court of law.”
Adding that “justice has been done”, Allred added: “I truly hope that his long list of victims will now be able to find some kind of peace.”
Of course, Cosby’s lawyer Tom Mesereau has insisted that “the fight is not over”, adding that he believes Cosby is innocent and that he plans to file an appeal.
For now, though, let us celebrate this as a victory for sexual assault survivors everywhere: it shows us that people are more willing to listen to victim testimonies. That they won’t just blindly hero-worship famous men. That attitudes around sexual assault cases are finally – albeit slowly – changing.
And in a world where we still struggle to nail sexual assault convictions, this has very real implications for women at threat everywhere, every day.
If you have been subject to sexual assault, call 999 to report it to police.
Images: Getty Images
This article was originally published in April 2018.