“William Henry Cosby Jr. is an American former stand-up comedian, actor, musician, author, and convicted sex offender.”
So reads the headline of Bill Cosby’s Wikipedia bio as of the news breaking of him being found guilty of drugging and molesting Andrea Constand in 2004. Cosby’s conviction is the first high-profile case of its kind since the #MeToo movement began in 2017, and has seen the former actor and comedian sentenced to three to ten years in the SCI Phoenix state prison, Philadelphia. Survivors were seen in a video published after the conviction exclaiming ‘We’ve got justice!’. ‘This is just going to show survivors that they can make it through and that there is justice in the end’, said one of the women who was encouraged by Cosby’s sentencing.
Cosby’s conviction is the first high-profile case of its kind since the #MeToo movement began
This case is evidently a landmark one in the path towards justice for many, and the aforementioned videos of survivors rejoicing in public no doubt displays the strength which the #MeToo movement has endowed to many. Andrea Constand, who met Cosby when she was 30 years old, has written about her life before the assault as a time when she was at ‘the top of her game’.
“Bill Cosby took my beautiful, healthy young spirit and crushed it. He robbed me of my health and my vitality, my open nature, and my trust in myself and others”, Constand writes. The effects of the assault are self-evident, and the brutal media campaign against Constand’s family by Cosby’s PR team in the initial period after her allegations went public – branded a once-revered top-tier basketball player, and coach, a ‘pathological liar’ and a ‘Gold digger’. Other women then came out as sexual assault victims of Bill Cosby’s, a process which intensified as the total reached sixty around January 2015. American national and international media had to come to terms with the fact that ‘America’s Dad’ may indeed be, as Constand labels him, a ‘serial rapist’. A mistrial in 2017 delayed the final verdict for Cosby, but the sheer amount of evidence meant it was likely a foregone conclusion. Cosby was found guilty in April 2018, and sentenced to three to 10 years in State Prison on 26 September.
American national and international media had to come to terms with the fact that ‘America’s Dad’ may indeed be, as Constand labels him, a ‘serial rapist’.
“It all feels like a step in the right direction: away from a very dark and lonely place, toward the person I was before all this happened”, Constand said, referring to her feelings after the sentence was handed out. “Instead of looking back, I am looking forward to looking forward. I want to get to the place where the person I was meant to be [is given] a second chance. I know that I still have room to grow.”
Survivors of Cosby’s abuse are evidently empowered as a result of the conclusion of this trial; however, he could be released in as early as three years. Given the seriousness of the crime, and the labelling of Cosby as ‘likely to re-offend’ by a psychologist as part of the trial, it is indeed striking that he could receive such a sentence. Casting minds back to the reactions to American college sexual assaulter Brock Turner’s reception of six month’s incarceration – the criticisms of Cosby’s sentence ring in a familiar tone. According to a study conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the average jail sentence for convicted rapists is 11 years. Given that this is the average, rather than the maximum, such a study suggests that Cosby’s sentence is rather a low one.
It’s not only his conviction which has attracted the attention of the press. One week into his sentence, the news of the state of Cosby’s prison experience was exposed to the public. Reports have suggested that Cosby is in ‘Good spirits’ and that he is having breakfast with jail staff, alongside being assigned fellow inmates to help him around.
Cosby’s PR team have been hard at work since the moment of his sentencing. Andrew Wyatt of Cosby’s PR accused the trial of being ‘racist’, alongside attempting to rebut criticisms of the former actor. “They persecuted Jesus and look what happened”, Wyatt said. “Not saying Mr. Cosby is Jesus but we know what this country has done to black men for centuries. So Mr. Cosby is doing fine, he’s holding up well. And anyone who wants to say something negative: you’re a joke as well”
The long-term impact of the trial is hard to ascertain.
The long-term impact of the trial is hard to ascertain. While, indeed, Cosby’s jail time may come as a relief to victims of sexual assault and harassment—the recent confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh into the US Supreme Court in the face of accusations he raped Dr. Christine Blasey Ford in 1982 will likely have the opposite effect. Men such as Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, who were accused of sexual assault during the #MeToo campaign in Autumn of 2017, still have not faced a final judgement one way or another.
What this means for men such as Weinstein, Spacey, and others is still up in the air. Given that the final verdict is yet to be cast on other men accused of such crimes, it’s likely the official #MeToo precedent is still to be set.