Women campaigning against sexual assault and harassment hailed Bill Cosby’s conviction as a validation of the #MeToo movement and a signal to other victims unsure if they should come forward to seek justice.
“It takes a lot of courage to do that, but this will encourage other women who now see that having a powerful legal team and being a celebrity doesn’t buy you a pass,” said Debra Katz, a Washington DC lawyer specialising in sexual harassment law.
Cosby, for decades one of America’s most beloved comedians, was convicted of drugging and molesting Temple University employee Andrea Constand at his suburban Philadelphia home in 2004.
He claimed the encounter was consensual, and his lawyers attacked Ms Constand as a liar and a “con artist” who framed him to get rich.
This was Cosby’s second trial on the sexual-assault charges. The first ended with a hung jury 10 months ago, before #MeToo became a global movement.
In the time since Cosby’s first trial, sexual-misconduct allegations have toppled countless influential men in entertainment, politics, the media and other sectors. Cosby’s conviction came in the first big celebrity trial since the #MeToo movement exploded and gave abused women a collective voice.
In the pre-#MeToo era, said Ms Katz, women who reported rape and harassment “were reflexively disbelieved and smeared, particularly when they raised allegations against celebrities and powerful men”.
“As a result of the courage of millions of women who spoke out … our society has changed,” she said. “In effect, this jury agreed that Time’s Up.”
Sandra Park, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Women’s Rights Project, said the #MeToo movement had helped educate the public about the pervasiveness of sexual assault and the factors that prompt some victims to delay coming forward for long periods of time.
“The tactic of villainising the victim has traditionally worked — so you would look for the perfect case that was reported right away,” Park said. “#MeToo has showed that there’s a wide range of sexual-assault cases that don’t fit in a neat box.”
Constand, a former Temple women’s basketball administrator, said Cosby knocked her out with three blue pills he called “your friends” and then penetrated her with his fingers as she lay immobilised, unable to resist or say no.
Although only Constand’s case went to trial, more than 60 other women came forward over the past few years to accuse Cosby of drugging and molesting them over five decades. Their accusations against a well-known superstar were a precursor to #MeToo.
“One of the big lessons we’ve been learning over last six months is that people we admire, people we feel we know well, can also do bad things,” said Fatima Goss-Graves, president of the National Women’s Law Centre.
Celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred, who represented some of Cosby’s accusers, evoked the movement in remarks on the courthouse steps in Norristown, Pennsylvania, after the verdict was delivered.
“The #MeToo movement has arrived and is well and is living in Montgomery County, throughout this nation and throughout this world,” Ms Allred said.