Bill Cosby is free | This is why women don’t come forward

Bill Cosby survivors seated, pictured in black and white for new york magazine

If the last week is anything to go by, it should be clear to you that women are not valued in modern society. Bill Cosby, a man found guilty of drugging and sexually assaulting around 60 women, has secured an early release from prison.

Meanwhile, Britney Spears has received yet another devastating blow in her plight to be released from her own prison sentence at the hands of her father’s cruel and unjust conservatorship.

Two very public cases that highlight the way men and women are treated in the eyes of the law and in society. One thing is abundantly clear:

  • Society doesn’t value women.
  • Society doesn’t respect women.
  • Society doesn’t believe women.

This is why women don’t come forward

We live in a patriarchal society underpinned by rape culture that excuses the problematic behaviours of men and demonises women who do come forward with sexual assault allegations, because they threaten the foundations of what our society has been built on.

To take sexual assault seriously acknowledges traditional concept of masculinity and heteronormative relationships are fundamentally flawed: that no doesn’t always mean no, boys will be boys, and women definitely wanted it, even if they said no.

To challenge that, and demand a patriarchal society to look inward and hold themselves accountable for the atrocities inflicted on women is like screaming into the void. It’s much easier to demonise survivors and ask them arbitrary questions to restore imbalance.

  • What were you wearing?
  • Were you drinking?
  • Why didn’t you fight back?
  • Why didn’t you scream?
  • Why were you alone at night?

This is just a tiny portion of the barriers in place for women who do come forward, and all of them highlight that women are not respected, valued or believed in society.

The reason Bill Cosby’s release is so shocking and painful for victims of sexual assault, is because it was a monumental stride forward for victims everywhere, and a powerful moment in the Me Too and Times Up movements.

Bill Cosby is guilty, but free

When 60 incredibly brave women made the decision to come forward and recall the trauma inflicted on them on a global stage, they faced the same disbelief and demonisation that any other woman who comes forward faces.

They, despite being successful women, were desperate for their 15 minutes of fame, while Bill Cosby, a man who abused his power as America’s favourite sitcom dad was instantly believed.

And now, he has been released on a technicality.

Not innocence.

A technicality.

The court found an agreement that a previous prosecutor made with Bill Cosby in 2005. This was a promise to forgo prosecution permanently, in exchange for his testimony.

Read that back – if he admitted guilt, he wouldn’t be prosecuted.

Bill Cosby then gave four sworn depositions, which included many incriminating statements that admitted his guilt. The prosecution then charged Bill Cosby of drugging and raping anyway.

The court now says that this was against the law, and Bill Cosby has since been released from prison.

So now, we know that even though women already face enormous battles in the fight for justice against sexual assault and rape, we’re also not taken seriously in the eyes of justice either.

The prosecutor wanted to win, they didn’t want justice for the women Bill Cosby raped.

We’re not asking for it. We’re asking to be believed.

The stats around the arrest, prosecution and conviction of rape and sexual assault paint a bleak picture.

Here in the UK, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland recently apologised to rape victims for low conviction rates. Figures showed that over the past five years, while cases of rape reported across England and Wales have risen exponentially, the proportion of those making it to court and leading to prosecutions in that time, has more than halved.

To break it down, in the year end of March 2020, 58,856 cases of rape were recorded by police in England and Wales. Out of these reported incidents, there were only 2,102 prosecutions, compared with 3,043 in the previous 12 months.

Across the pond, in the US, there’s an equally grim outlook. Out of 1,000 rapes that take place, only 310 are reported. Of those reported, only 50 lead to an arrest and only 28 cases end in a felony conviction. Overall, only 25 offenders are incarcerated, often just for a few months.

These figures are inexplicably dismal and it’s devastating for women everywhere, but especially amplified for the victims and their families, who have witnessed their rapists walk free or receive a simple slap on the wrists for a crime all too often defined as “action”.

Despite Bill Cosby’s release and the perpetual victim-blaming we see, women remain resilient

We’re still seeing women come forward and place themselves under the harshest lens the ‘justice’ system has to offer. They have the courage to be re-traumatised over and over, recounting events with meticulous detail, all while being relentlessly gaslighted and victim blamed.

The demands placed on these survivors to prove themselves to a jury to provide unwavering doubt that they have upheld the archaic stereotypes placed on women – virtuous, deserving of respect, chaste. It’s this notion that allows rapists to go free, but also empowers bystanders to threaten death, force survivors into hiding and metaphorically tear them limb from limb in their support of crimes against women.

Society is anchored by rape culture, and the systems we uphold benefit from the public derision of women who come forward. Even elected officials, in the wake of pussy grabbing and abuse of power, are able to go about their business as usual, while women continue to suffer.

The women who came forward to see Bill Cosby pay for his prolific crimes against women are owed so much more than seeing their attacker walk free on a technicality. In their coming forward, their testimonies empowered other women to do so and the conversation around rape culture and sexual assault changed.

The unjust release of Bill Cosby is a devastating blow to the Me Too and Times Up movements, as well as to feminists and survivors everywhere. I implore you, if you read this far, to believe women. We deserve it.

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