Bill Cosby’s Aggressive Legal Strategy Shows Why So Few Risk Making Rape Accusations (VIDEO)
Bill Cosby, one of the world’s most recognizable comedians, was charged with sexual assault, Wednesday. The charge comes after snowballing allegations began dogging him over a decade ago. Cosby was arraigned in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. The one charge of felony indecent assault was filed days before the 12-year statute of limitations would have run out on an accusation from an alleged incident in 2004. He could face up to 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.
Over 50 women have come forward to accuse Bill Cosby of sexually assaulting them at some point over the last 40 years. There is obviously strength in numbers, which is why allegations stemming from decades of alleged abuse have cascaded in a few short years. But even with dozens of women multiplying the force of the same type of claim, the legal options available to Cosby have a general chilling effect on reporting for alleged rape victims.
Two weeks ago, Cosby countersued seven women who had accused him of sexually assaulting them. CNN reported,
“The women made ‘malicious, opportunistic, and false and defamatory accusations of sexual misconduct against’ Cosby, his lawyer Monique Pressley said in a statement. They made the accusations to hurt Cosby’s reputation and to obtain financial gain, Pressley said.”
The seven had previously sued Cosby for defamation after his lawyer claimed that they only accused him of damage his image and cash in on their claims. They are now suing each other for virtually the same thing: defaming the other. Cosby’s strategy, then, is to raise the costs of suing and accusing him. He can afford to lose the case, but still “win” in the long run if he forces other women to reconsider seeking charges against him. His lawyer’s strategy is to turn the whole case into a Jerry Springer-esque slap fight of he said vs. she said. Everyone gets dragged into the mud, and Cosby wins a Pyrrhic victory.
But, he could win. The accusations have hurt Cosby. Quite a lot of Cosby reruns, new media and stand-up gigs have been cancelled following the slew of allegations. It will be difficult for Cosby’s lawyer to categorically prove that the accusers both lied, and did so for personal gain. But if his attorney can successfully undermine the credibility of any of his accusers, they can start to do real damage to the onslaught of accusations against him.
This legal situation highlights why so few rape victims pursue charges or even report a rape in the first place. Sexual assault is vastly underreported. Estimates of the exact rate vary because of issues of definition and underreporting itself. The Rape Crisis Center reports,
Sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes, with an average of 39% being reported to the police each year.
The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network estimates that out of every 100 rapes committed, 32 are reported to police, seven lead to an arrest, three are referred to a prosecutor, and two lead to a conviction.
There are many reasons for this. But one of them is the power of a man like Bill Cosby, once one of America’s most beloved TV personalities. His accusers allege that he used his influence to silence alleged victims for years, reducing the evidence of their accusations to mere testimony. Now, he is using his money to wield the full force of the law to strike back against their testimony. For most alleged victims, the intimidation factor alone would be enough to decide it isn’t worth the risks of reporting or pursuing charges. This kind of power has created conspiracies of silence in the Catholic Church, and, more recently, in football programs.
The women now going toe-to-toe with Cosby are courageous to air their accusations. They represent something more than their individual allegations.
Watch Cosby Arrive At Court For His Arraignment
Posted by NBC10 Philadelphia on Wednesday, December 30, 2015
Featured image via screen capture of NBC10 Philadelphia video
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Marc Belisle is the Reverb Press World Affairs Editor. He is a writer, activist and teacher. He has a Master’s degree in International Conflict Analysis from the Brussels School of International Studies. READ MORE BY MARC.