One of the things they don’t tell you when you get into the whole “feminist blogger” game (because if they did you probably wouldn’t do it) is how rarely you get to experience anything as satisfying as justice. For every Daniel Holtzclaw sobbing when he realizes that he’s not going to get away with multiple rapes, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of near (or not so near) misses: a millionaire getting away with the “I tripped and fell in her vagina” defense, a judge who says that a 14-year-old rape victim is “older than her chronological age,” or a jury who finds a rapist not guilty because they don’t believe he could have ripped off his victim’s skinny jeans without assistance. So it’s a rare and beautiful thing when, as a feminist blogger, you get a gift you didn’t even think was possible: new charges against someone who you had thought already beat the system and was going to die without facing up to his crimes. Ladies and gentlemen, Bill Cosby has been charged with aggravated indecent assault.
Seeing Cosby’s perp walk and looking at his mugshot satisfies the fierce and bitter part of my soul that indicates I was possibly one of the Erinyes in a former life. The charges are in relation to the 2004 incident in which Cosby drugged and raped Andrea Constand. Charges were not filed at the time of the incident, though Constand’s lawsuit against Cosby was one of the first public indications of Cosby’s terrible actions. It’s certainly what led to comedian Hannibal Burress calling Cosby a rapist in his act, which made people magically remember a fact that had been true for at least ten years.(And again, it’s so great that it takes a man talking about rape to make people pay attention to it. So great.) If Cosby is convicted, he could face up to 20 years in jail, and up to $25,000 in fines. Of course it’s not all rosy—Cosby is already out after posting 10% of his $1,000,000 bail, and many of his victims still fear the repercussions of the defamation suits he has pending against them.
A few months ago, I wrote a post about Cosby where I admitted that due to the statute of limitations, Cosby would probably never be charged with any of the crimes he’s committed. I have never been happier to be proven wrong. But the bigger takeaway of my previous post, that the most important thing we can do is to listen to Cosby’s victims and be aware of their stories, has been proven partially right. As Diana Moskovitz points out, very little about the new charges is actually new. Most of the evidence being used against Cosby for these charges either already existed when Constand first tried to have charges brought against Cosby, or was discoverable by the police if they, instead of the Associated Press, had attempted to have the depositions of Constand’s civil case unsealed. Unless there is a heap of evidence that the prosecutors declined to mention in the complaint, the foundation of the current aggravated indecent assault charge is almost entirely formed from information the police already had, or could have had, access to. As Moskowitz explains,
The bottom line is that the case against Cosby appears to have been built on evidence that was available a decade ago. That evidence didn’t change. What changed was how much people wanted to see it, and how willing they were to believe it.
The only thing that really changed between Constand’s original attempts to have Cosby charged and the filing of charges against Cosby this week is the number of people aware of, and talking about, Cosby’s crime. Now with roughly fifty identified victims, hundreds of articles about Cosby, and increased public awareness and outcry all around, public officials are facing increased pressure to ensure that Cosby suffers for his crimes in some way that doesn’t involve the removal of his honorary degrees.
When the world is at its most frustrating, writing about social justice issues can feel like screaming into a void—it relieves the pressure in your mind, but it doesn’t feel like it actually accomplishes anything, or that anyone is actually hearing you. It leaves you hoarse, drained, and dispirited. But sometimes, if you are lucky, those screams have an effect. Enough people hear them, and enough people repeat them (or enough other people are also screaming) that society slowly changes. Laws are updated. Rapists face justice.
Bill Cosby will never receive as much jail time as he deserves for everything that he’s done. But he wouldn’t be receiving any jail time at all if people hadn’t started talking about his actions.
Elle Irise is a regular contributor to This Week In Tomorrow. When she’s not discussing the ongoing saga of William H. Cosby, she studies gender in popular culture.