Bill Cosby Is Free. Sexual Assault Survivors Are Shocked and Angry.

Reactions from survivors of sexual assault flooded the internet after news of Cosby’s overturned conviction.
June 30, 2021, 7:35pm
Actor Bill Cosby arrives for sentencing for his sexual assault trial at the Montgomery County Courthouse on September 24, 2018 in Norristown, Pennsylvania.
Actor/Bill Cosby arrives for sentencing for his sexual assault trial at the Montgomery County Courthouse on September 24, 2018 in Norristown, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Gilbert Carrasquillo/Getty Images)

When Bill Cosby was convicted of sexual assault in 2018, it was celebrated as a sign that, finally, society would take sexual assault and its survivors seriously. And so on Wednesday, when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled to overturn Cosby’s conviction and let the famous comedian walk free, it was yet another sign: No, actually, nothing has changed.

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In the minutes and hours after news of Cosby’s imminent freedom broke, angry and anguished reactions from survivors of sexual assault flooded the internet. Cosby’s trial was originally heralded as the first of the post-#MeToo era, and for many, Cosby’s overturned conviction was a stark reminder of their own cases—and how their attackers never ended up facing consequences.

“I hate when cases of rape are all in my face. It makes me remember what happened to me so I’ll shake and feel like throwing up all day,” one person tweeted. “Victims are out here. But as in my case, the monster walks.”

Another wrote on Twitter, “I have always been reluctant to share my rape experience, but it involved date rape drugs. When I reported it to campus police (total sober because I don’t drink—it was put in my lemonade), they blamed me for being out and drinking at a frat house. Because of course.” (Cosby was infamously accused of drugging and sexually assaulting women.)

“It’s been over a decade since my rape and I go months without thinking about it and then I read this and suddenly I can’t breathe for crying and basically that means it’s time for an internet break,” yet another wrote. “Peace y’all, do what you need to get through. Me? I’m gonna go snuggle my kid.”

Alison Turkos is a sexual assault advocate who, almost four years ago, reported that she had been raped. There are still no criminal charges in her case, she told VICE News.

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“We see constantly, in written pieces, on Twitter, in conversations that I have—particularly from men—that say, ‘The MeToo movement has gone too far, you’re ruining men’s lives,’” Turkos said. “What consequences? What changed behavior? What accountability is happening?”

Most people, Turkos pointed out, are not sexually assaulted by men who are rich and famous. Few are likely to have been publicly accused of sexual misconduct by dozens of women in the pages of New York Magazine, as Cosby was. (He was ultimately convicted in connection to just one case, involving a woman named Andrea Constand.) So if a case as high-profile as Cosby doesn’t end in consequences, what hope is there for everyone else?

Statistically speaking, there is little hope. Out of every 1,000 sexual assaults, 975 perpetrators will ultimately walk free, according to RAINN, the preeminent U.S. group combatting sexual assault. Of those 1,000 cases, just 310 are even reported to police. That’s not exactly a surprise, when it’s so probable that reporting a rape to police will be traumatizing and ultimately result in little to no accountability for perpetrators. 

“I live in PA [Pennsylvania] and my rape kit was never tested and no authority believed I was even raped and I’m not surprised this is happening here,” one individual tweeted. “This is one of a multitude of reasons so many rape victims never come forward. It’s disheartening.”

“I am in a dealership getting my car fixed,” someone else tweeted. “The older women here are saying, ‘Good for him. If you get raped, you report it that day. Hope he enjoys the rest of his life.’ As a rape survivor I am doing everything to not lose it.”

The overturning of Cosby’s decision was, undeniably, the result of some good lawyering and of his ability to access such good lawyers at all. Cosby’s attorneys fought for him years after his conviction, ultimately dreaming up what a former federal prosecutor told the Daily Beast was a “creative argument”—that a public announcement by a former district attorney triggered a chain of events that essentially invalidated Cosby’s conviction.

“Who has access to the criminal legal system? Who has access to a hospital that provides a rape kit? Who has access to lawyers?” Turkos said. “The system is made to harm victims and survivors, to break us, so we don’t follow through. In the end, victims and survivors will always lose and the people who perpetrated harm will always win. But the question is, what does that look like? And today, it looks like Bill Cosby being released from prison.”