Comedian Bill Cosby, center, and spokesperson Andrew Wyatt, right, approach members of the media gathered outside Cosby's home in Elkins Park, Pa., Wednesday, June 30, 2021, after Pennsylvania's highest court overturned his sex assault conviction. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke) Bill Cosby
Comedian Bill Cosby, center, and spokesperson Andrew Wyatt, right, approach members of the media gathered outside Cosby's home in Elkins Park, Pa., Wednesday, June 30, 2021, after Pennsylvania's highest court overturned his sex assault conviction. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

“When people who sexually abuse others, like Cosby, are not held accountable or walk free, it directly or indirectly sends the message that sexual assault and its impact on victims is not taken seriously.”

Women’s advocates were outraged and disheartened by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision this week to overturn Bill Cosby’s conviction on sexual assault charges.

“There was a movement when he was convicted,” said Penelope Ettinger, executive director at the Network of Victim Assistance (NOVA) in Bucks County. “It’s a terrible blow.”

The decision “reflects the vast challenges survivors face when they share their experiences of sexual harassment, abuse, and assault in search of justice through the criminal legal system,” leaders of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) and Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR) said in a joint statement. 

“When people who sexually abuse others, like Cosby, are not held accountable or walk free, it directly or indirectly sends the message that sexual assault and its impact on victims is not taken seriously.”

NSVRC provides a nationwide database for victims to locate help centers in their state. PCAR serves victims of sexual assault in Pennsylvania.

The women’s advocacy groups want to make one thing clear. 

“This was not overturned because he was found innocent, it was on a technical error,” Ettinger said.

The Case Against Bill Cosby

The actor and comedian was sentenced in 2015 to three- to-10 years in state prison for drugging and sexually assaulting Temple University employee Andrea Constand 14 years ago at his home in Cheltenham Township, Montgomery County. 

Constand was not the first woman to accuse Cosby of rape; she was just the first to go to police. Five other women, who knew Cosby through the entertainment industry, testified at trial that Cosby had drugged and sexually assaulted them in the 1980s.

Prosecutors said Cosby used his reputation as a family man — from “The Cosby Show” and his comedy — to gain the women’s trust before he betrayed them.

How Bill Cosby’s Conviction Was Overturned

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court said that Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele, who made the decision to arrest Cosby, was obligated to stand by his predecessor’s promise not to charge Cosby when he later gave potentially incriminating testimony in Constand’s civil suit. 

Steele’s predecessor was Bruce Castor, a Republican who represented former President Donald Trump during Trump’s second impeachment hearing. There was no evidence that Castor’s promise was ever put in writing.

The court said that overturning the conviction, and barring any further prosecution, “is the only remedy that comports with society’s reasonable expectations of its elected prosecutors and our criminal justice system.”

Despite the disappointing outcome of the Cosby case, women’s advocates want women to know they’re still here for them.

“I hope that women and all victims that have been sexually assaulted as adults or as children know that advocates and the community at large will continue to fight for them, continue to fight for justice, in this case, and all other cases,” Ettinger said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.