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Sexual harassment and assault

Why the Cosby verdict will strike fear into hearts of celebrity abusers – and stir hope among their victims

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 April, 2018, 11:57am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 April, 2018, 7:16pm

Bill Cosby remained stoic as a jury on Thursday pronounced him guilty on multiple charges of sexual assault. But it was apparent to many in the courtroom, and the millions who tuned in to the aftermath of the trial on television, that they were witnessing a watershed moment.

Cosby, 80, became one of the first in a line of powerful, famous men shamed out of their careers and the public eye when an unprecedented number of women came forward alleging sexual abuse, and now, he was the first to be found guilty of such crimes in a court of law.

The surprising outcome of the retrial in Pennsylvania offered hope for women who’ve become symbols of the growing #MeToo movement, yet who still struggle to have their cases heard by a judge and jury.

Bill Cosby guilty of sexual assault, a conviction decades in the making

“Women are believed, and not only on hashtag MeToo, but in a court of law where they were under oath, where they testified truthfully, where they were attacked, where they were smeared, where they were denigrated, where there were attempts to discredit them,” said Gloria Allred, the attorney for several of Cosby’s accusers, as she stood on the steps of the Norristown, Pa., courthouse following the verdict. “And after all is said and done, women were finally believed.”

For shamed celebrities like Cosby who’d been plotting comebacks, assuming they’d never be challenged by a higher authority than Facebook, Twitter or the court of public opinion, it had to be a day of reckoning. And perhaps a wake-up call for those powerful entertainers who’d victimised women and were contemplating a move back to the spotlight, feeling that their moment of exile was coming to an end.

As recently as last week, Louis C.K. was reportedly contemplating his return to comedy, and former Today show prince Matt Lauer was “testing the waters” for a comeback. Publisher Tina Brown was quoted as saying fired PBS talk-show host Charlie Rose was considering starring in a #MeToo atonement series, where he would interview other men accused of sexual misconduct.

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If those fallen-from-grace figures thought it would be easy to win their careers back by doing what they’ve always done – take charge and seize control of the narrative, the Cosby verdict changed all that, possibly for good, or at least the rest of their viable showbiz years.

The testimony of five women, all of whom accused the iconic entertainer of horrific acts of sexual abuse, drove the narrative and convinced a jury – not television executives, a studio audience or talent agents – that Cosby, America’s favourite TV dad, was also a criminal.

The women wept and hugged as the guilty verdicts were read. One of his accusers, Lili Bernard, later declared, “I feel like I’m dreaming … can you pinch me? … I feel like my faith in humanity is restored.”

Another Cosby’s accusers, Lisa Moritz, called him “a raping monster” and said she looked forward to seeing him “in handcuffs on his way to prison”. She said Cosby “has groomed, then raped, then threatened so many” women.

His fellow offenders also have this sobering thought to chew on: We haven’t even gone to trial over exiled film producer Harvey Weinstein yet, and 80 women have come forward with allegations against him.

Thursday’s verdict was in favour of former Temple University basketball staffer Andrea Constand, 45, who charged that Cosby drugged and assaulted her in 2004 at his home outside Philadelphia. She’s one of approximately 60 women who came forward against the comedian in recent years, with allegations dating to the 1960s. But Constand’s is the first case to render guilty verdicts.

In January, Cosby, thinking he might soon be a free man on the comeback path, performed in a small Philadelphia venue, the LaRose Jazz Club, to a friendly audience.

He called an 11-year-old boy onstage during the set, capitalising on another part of his life that brought him a more positive type of notoriety. Cosby asked the boy if he knew who he was.

“You used to be a comedian?” the boy said.

“I used to be a comedian?” Cosby joked. “You can sit down now.”