“The news of an appeal triggers trauma and attempts to silence victims from coming forward.”
In 2018, Bill Cosby was convicted of sexual assault, sentenced to 10 years in prison, and legally labeled a “sexually violent predator.” Now, the disgraced former comedian and actor will be allowed to appeal that conviction thanks to a ruling from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
“It feels like yet another threat to the justice his victims received from the courts. It took them so long to even get a sliver of justice,” Jennifer Storm, the appointed Victim Advocate for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, told The Keystone. Storm has worked with many of Cosby’s accusers. After news of the appeal broke, she spoke with some of the women who have accused Cosby of sexual assault—and they’re angry.
Cosby, who is 82 years old, has been in prison for almost two years. In 2018, a Montgomery County jury convicted him of drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand in 2004. Now, the Supreme Court has agreed to review several aspects of the trial, including whether the jury should have heard Cosby’s testimony from a separate civil case about his use of quaaludes. His lawyers have long argued that their client was promised criminal immunity for that particular testimony.
The high court will also consider whether the testimony of five other accusers should have been allowed when Cosby was technically on trial for the drugging and sexual assault of Constand.
While Constand, a former Temple University employee, is the only accuser to obtain a conviction against Cosby, Storm said it was a powerful point of justice for all of them. “It’s disturbing to see any attempt to pull that justice rug out from underneath them.”
Constand, in a statement released the same day the decision was announced last week, asked the state’s Supreme Court “to consider the enormous prospect of putting my perpetrator back into the community after being labeled a convicted sexually violent predator who has shown no remorse for his actions.”
All of this comes in a political climate in which Congress has failed to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), the landmark legislation created to support and protect survivors of domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assault through community-based services, improved criminal justice, and accessible resources for victims. The 1994 law expired in February 2019, and lawmakers have consistently been unable to reach an agreement to reauthorize VAWA.
Pennsylvania Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick helped spearhead a bipartisan reauthorization bill last year, which passed the House. That bill has not, however, been taken up by the Senate, and survivors in at-risk communities are still waiting on a divided Congress to act.
As for the Cosby appeal, victim advocates say the news may be triggering for both those directly involved in the case and sexual abuse survivors everywhere.
“For victims, it doesn’t need to be a high-profile case,” explained Jim Willshier, chief public affairs officer for the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR). “Just hearing another story in the news about sexual or domestic violence on any level can trigger a victim to go through their experience again. Everyone’s experience processing this is different.”
Stacey Pinkerton was one of Cosby’s accusers who gathered at his sentencing two years ago. She told The Keystone she vehemently disagrees with the appeal decision, especially as it pertains to the testimony of other accusers.
“All the victims should have been heard and had their day in court,” said Pinkerton, who now lives in Europe. “All the prior bad acts witnesses certainly should have been able to tell the jury what William H. Cosby did to them and who he really is.”
Pinkerton said Cosby drugged and raped her in Chicago in 1986. “Due to the statute of limitations,” she added, “I have no justice.”
Willshier, however, said everyone—even a convicted criminal—is entitled to their day in court. “The first thing we always say is that we believe the victims that come forward with their story and that they should be heard,” he said, but noted that PCAR believes the legal process matters. “We want to be respectful of the system, and the Constitution says there is an appeals process. But we do think [Cosby’s] sentence was fair.”
Another concern Pinkerton raises is what message the decision to allow Cosby to appeal sends other survivors.
“The news of an appeal triggers trauma and attempts to silence victims from coming forward,” she said. “The fact that Cosby is convicted and in jail for one of his victims after years of drugging and raping young women, yet still does not show any remorse, is a danger to society and the wrong message for the world and our children.”
Including Constand and Pinkerton, at least 60 women had come forward by 2015 to publicly accuse Cosby of sexual abuse. That reckoning happened prior to the accusations that surfaced against Harvey Weinstein in 2017, which led to the dawning of the #MeToo movement.
Storm, Pennsylvania’s victim advocate, feels that Cosby’s victims were pivotal in paving the way for the movement itself because Cosby was arrested, the case went to trial twice, and he eventually received a conviction.
“The fact that Cosby is convicted and in jail for one of his victims after years of drugging and raping young women, yet still does not show any remorse, is a danger to society and the wrong message for the world and our children.”
“These women really were the underpinning of the #MeToo movement,” she said. “They were the original ones that broke their silence and came forward. And it’s what really lent itself to the justice we found on the Weinstein case.” The former Hollywood producer was found guilty of rape in the third degree and criminal sexual act in the first degree earlier this year.
When it comes to the #MeToo movement, Storm said she isn’t concerned about the news of the appeal jeopardizing the framework of the movement, however, noting that having these cases in the news keeps the dialogue alive.
According to Storm, several of the other women who have raised accusations against Cosby have expressed feeling anxious and angry at the prospect of having to relive their trauma. But, she added, that isn’t going to stop them from making sure justice is served once more.
“These women are warriors,” Storm said. “They’re some of the most amazing, courageous women I’ve ever encountered. They’re in it for the long haul.”
To find your local Pennsylvania rape crisis center, visit the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR) website or call their toll-free hotline at 1-888-772-7227.
Here is a full list of Pennsylvania-based resources for victims of sexual assault.For non-PA residents, please visit the RAINN resources page or go here to chat online with staff member who can provide confidential support.
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