Content warning: This article contains mentions of sexual assault, self-harm, rape, substance abuse, eating disorders and panic attacks. Reader discretion is advised.
*The source mentioned in this story has been renamed for privacy purposes.
In light of Bill Cosby’s overturned indecent assault conviction on Thursday, June 30, sexual assault survivors in the United States have wondered what the effects of his release will have on the community.
Though I am not a survivor myself, I, too, can’t help but wonder the same. As a supporter of survivors, I understand that the impact of his release will prolong the trauma his survivors, and many others, face.
You see, I’m friends with individuals who have experienced sexual assault and abuse, and though it’s a given that the results of their experiences are negative, I think we deeply underestimate how greatly these situations impact different aspects of their lives. For many survivors, sexual assault may lead to self-harm, substance abuse, eating disorders, and panic attacks. The situation is even more heartbreaking when you learn that every 68 seconds an American is sexually assaulted. And while I know it’s clear that Bill Cosby isn’t responsible for every sexual assault case in America, his case triggers a larger discussion for survivors and their supporters.
High-profile cases like Cosby’s and Brock Turner’s — a Stanford University freshman who faced three months in jail for felony sexual assault charges — cause survivors to question whether or not it’s worth speaking up against their abusers.
According to the UK Center for Research on Violence Against Women, a national study estimates only 37% of reported rapes are prosecuted and only 18% of prosecuted rape cases end in a conviction.
To better comprehend the situation, I sat down with my best friend and survivor Alana* to discuss Bill Cosby’s case and the MeToo Movement, a movement centered around community healing and the ending of sexual violence.
“I have a very unique experience with [Bill Cosby’s situation] because as a human being, I think it’s obviously stupid that a man that committed sexual assault against women is being released,” she said. “But there is a flip side to it. The reason his conviction was overturned. Under the law, it states you have the right to protection from self-incriminating statements. It sucks. He obviously deserves more jail time and is just getting off with a slap on the wrist.”
According to the Associated Press, Cosby was unfairly prosecuted because the previous district attorney had promised that he wouldn’t be charged over Temple University employee Andrea Constand’s accusations.
Alana went onto explain how she believes the overturned conviction would affect sexual assault survivors and their likelihood to come forward.
“Victims don’t speak out for multiple reasons. Culturally, we think it’s our fault ... and for individuals who want to press charges, oftentimes they face victim-blaming,” she said. “They blame the victim for what happened to them and say things like ‘you shouldn’t have been wearing that’ or ‘they’re just having fun with you.’ It’s just not fair. This is another reason why we have to keep the good fight going.”
Victim-blaming makes it harder for survivors to come forward and report their abuse. It also reinforces what the abuser has been saying all along; that it is the victim’s fault — when it’s not.
The MeToo Movement’s official Instagram page commented on Cosby’s conviction saying, “Today’s decision is not only triggering for those who have experienced sexual violence and its emotional and physical consequences; it is a miscarriage of what little accountability survivors are afforded by our legal system … In this moment we are speaking directly to survivors: We honor you and your complicated journey towards healing as you define justice and accountability in the face of a system that fails us at every turn.”
Though I don’t currently understand the effects of what survivors like my friend have been through, I do know it’s something that affects her every day — whether she mentions it or not. Because of this, I echo Alana’s sentiments, we have to keep the good fight going.
I stand with you.