Thursday brought news that many observers thought they’d never see: real legal repercussions for Bill Cosby.
The comedian and Cosby Show actor was found guilty of three counts of sexual assault against Andrea Constand in 2004. He faces up to 30 years at prison, effectively a life sentence for the 80-year-old celebrity.
Bill Cosby’s conviction, rendered in a Pennsylvania court after a 2017 mistrial, takes place against the backdrop of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements but is not entirely of it. Bill Cosby’s accusers had been publicly known for years before reporting on Harvey Weinstein in the New York Times and New Yorker kicked off a global reckoning around assault and misogyny. Thirty-five Cosby accusers appeared together on the cover of New York magazine in 2015, with an empty chair left to represent other women who might come forward in the future.
But that the case predated our recent, accelerated conversation also meant that its milestones came painfully slowly. Cosby’s behaviors—drugging and raping women—were written about in People in 2006 and joked about on 30 Rock in 2009. They were known in some circles, but remained the sort of story one expects to never reach the mainstream, let alone catharsis. The sheer number of accusers willing to come forward in the wake of an attention-getting comedy set by Hannibal Buress in 2014 (Buress said, in part, “you rape women, Bill Cosby”) eventually forced the case into public consciousness. But at times those accusers seem less powerful than Cosby’s image. Everyone knew about a story, but the mere act of knowing seemed to lack consequence. Though on-camera opportunities for Bill Cosby dried up, he continued to perform comedy before his fans; after his mistrial, a spokesman for the comic declared “Cosby’s power is back.”
Cosby losing his power on Thursday didn’t indicate, specifically, a victory for a movement that gained steam years after news of Cosby’s misdeeds first reached critical mass. But it was animated by the spirit of all who seek justice—and a sense of quite how far those people have to go. The past months have revealed many more Cosbys, public figures about whom much had previously been suspected or surmised and whom we now know to be something worse than lecherous. Real legal consequences have not yet fallen upon them. Even after Cosby was unmasked, it took nearly half a decade to bring him to account in the courtroom. It’s a timeline that suggests the changes wrought by the #MeToo movement are only just beginning.
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