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Bill Cosby, who was found guilty and convicted for multiple instances of sexual assault, was recently released from prison because of a “legal glitch” – not because of any proof, or even of any suggestion that he is innocent. His process rights were violated, and while we could get into all the legal technicalities of what that means, the truth of the matter is that it doesn’t matter. A man who raped and sexually assaulted multiple women for years is a free man again. How is this safe? And what does this say about rape culture in America? The #metoo movement has worked so hard to bring power to women and men, but how much does that mean when the next step of actually putting and keeping these assaulters in jail seems so impossible?
Little to No Legal Consequences
Women coming forward with their accounts face years of trauma and legal battles. On the other hand, it certainly seems like our legal system makes locking someone up for marijuana easier than it does locking someone up for destroying a person’s life with sexual assault.
Montgomery County district attorney Kevin Steele, who worked against Bill Cosby on his case said, “My hope is that this decision will not dampen the reporting of sexual assaults by victims. Prosecutors in my office will continue to follow the evidence wherever and to whomever it leads. We still believe that no one is above the law — including those who are rich, famous and powerful.” It’s a kind message, and one we would all love to believe. But the statistics and anecdotes tell a different story.
In 2017-2018 the conviction rate of rapists was 4.9 percent in the UK, and that’s just of the rapes that were reported. That is a tiny fraction of rapists who were actually punished for violent and unforgivable cries. It’s even worse in the United States. That conviction number drops to an estimated 0.6 percent, while 89% of victims face physical and emotional repercussions for speaking it. It’s not just unfair, it’s statistically dangerous to speak out.
When Bill Cosby was released, he thanked his supporters for standing by him. This is incredibly frustrating for two reasons; he wasn’t even found innocent, and it makes an ‘us against them’ stance that demonized and isolated the victims of the crimes he was proven guilty for.
The emotional trauma rape victims deal with is severe, while it can look different on everybody, post-traumatic stress disorder is particularly distressing and common. Symptoms of PTSD include; emotional avoidance, intrusive thoughts/symptoms (like flashbacks), changes and confusion in thoughts and feelings, and sleep and attention difficulties. This disorder plagues a victim’s life and every aspect of it. To reduce rape and sexual assault to purely a violent act (which is obviously still awful) is to ignore the decades of trauma victims are left to deal with on their own.
As previously mentioned, women speaking out against their assaulters is also incredibly difficult. According to sexual assault counselor Neeraja Sanmuhanathan, being a “model victim” is impossible. They will always be questioned on why they didn’t come out sooner, the choices they made that day, whether or not they were sober, or if their memories are reliable. The idea of having a cut-and-dry legal battle for rape or sexual assault feels like a fantastic dream in a world where grown women are treated like lying, guilty toddlers.
“Second rape” is a term that refers to the emotional trauma rape victims face when they come out about their experiences. The fact that there is a term coined for it should be enough to realize that this is happening far too often. Changes need to happen, and these victims need to be properly and legally protected when trying to get justice.
Things are getting better
It’s not all bad though. Small steps are being made to make getting justice for violent sexual crimes better. Convicted violent sex offenders are spending 10 more months in prison compared to 2002. Laws have also been put in place that give sexual assault victims more time to come out and report about abuse or rape, which is important since speaking out can be incredibly difficult and take a long time. There have also been improvements in procedures surrounding rape kits and preserving and storing them as legal evidence for a clear amount of time. While these steps aren’t enough to make victims feel safe and get the justice they deserve, they should inspire a bit of hope and give sexual assault victims some reassurance that there are people who care about them and are trying to make the legal system a safer place.
Bill Cosby’s release is infuriating and points to how grossly unheard the women traumatized by his actions are. He was found guilty of being a dangerous predator and should have never been given the chance to walk free. It’s proof that rape culture in the United States is real, and men like Cosby need to be properly held accountable for their actions without bringing their victims down with them.
Sign this petition to tell Minnesota lawmakers to immediately change this law to protect survivors of sexual assault and rape.
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