It’s been a couple days since Bill Cosby was released from prison after his sexual assault convictions were overturned. If you haven’t read the specifics, the short version is that former Montgomery County District Attorney, Bruce Castor, agreed to not criminally prosecute Cosby if he gave a deposition in a civil case which had been brought against him by Andrea Constand. During that deposition, Cosby admitted to using drugs to target women. The subsequent District Attorney, Kevin R. Steele, used these statements to charge Cosby in 2015. But this week, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that Castor’s agreement to not charge Cosby should be upheld, and therefore his conviction was overturned and he was released from prison.
There are far more in-depth descriptions and analyses available, and this is not a commentary on the concept of due process. I am certainly no legal expert, but from my vantage point, Cosby was released on a technicality. I feel like in the few days since this has happened, I have been waiting on some profound idea or perspective to kick in and it just…hasn’t. I am tired. I am disappointed. I am angry. But I’m not surprised. This particular situation deals with a legal technicality, but even when we aren’t talking about the justice system, we love technicalities anyway. We love using technicalities as a way to not face the realities of sexual violence, harassment, and generally gross behavior.
“I don’t condone what he did to her, but technically she had been drinking.”
“Yeah, I mean he shouldn’t have done that, but technically they had slept together already.”
“Technically they are 18 now.”
“Technically shouldn’t you have said something right after it happened instead of all these years later?”
It’s far too common to hear sexual violence or predatory behavior explained as the unfortunate result of some technicality. But when we do this, we dismiss a person’s story. We sweep away their trauma. We indicate that they were “technically” the ones to blame for their own assault…for having been drinking. For having had a sexual partner. For being unsure how to get help right away. For being 18. Or for whatever technicality we can find to avoid facing the prevalence, proximity, and severity of sexual violence.
The current conversation around Cosby is, of course, often not about how this technicality doesn’t mean he didn’t do it – especially in social media comment sections. While this technicality absolutely does not absolve him of his crimes, and in no way erases the allegations of approximately 60 women, many are still speaking as if it does. However it is imperative that we remember that our public comments in support of Cosby do nothing to help him, just like the public declarations of his innocence did nothing to protect him in 2015. Instead, these comments of show the people in our own lives how we feel about sexual assault and about those who have experienced it. Those comments shout “if you have a story that sounds anything like those of the people accusing Cosby, don’t bother telling me. I am not a safe person to talk to. I won’t believe you.”
If you are a person who has experienced or been impacted by sexual violence, I want you to know that no technicality makes your experiences your fault. There is no technicality that invalidates the pain that you’ve felt, the journey you’ve traveled, or the growing you’ve done. No technicality takes away your worth.
If you need a place to talk and find resources, please know that you can share your story with us anytime you’d like. We are here for you. We believe you. And we absolutely will not look for technicalities.