To date, more than a dozen women have accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault, their stories too eerily similar to be fabrications.
The few defenders he had left have dissipated since the court documents were released showing that he admitted under oath in 2005 that he had procured Quaaludes to give to women he wanted to have sex with. The Cliff Huxtable actor’s “eternal paternal” image is shattered beyond repair, and thankfully so.
But Cosby isn’t behind bars. He hasn’t been formally punished in any capacity. He’s primed to become one more in a long list of rapists that have gotten away scot-free, likely making future rapists bolder through example.
The testimony of over a dozen women, the admission under oath—are none of these evidence enough to warrant a sentence?
The justice system doesn’t think so. Why? Because by the time most of Cosby’s victims came forward, some as recently as this year, the statute of limitations on his crimes had passed. And even for those who filed suits in time, there isn’t enough physical evidence to support their allegations.
As for that admission under oath, it can serve us only so well at court. Cosby admitted that he had given Andrea Constand three half-pills of benadryl, but he did not confess to drugging women without their consent, let alone to rape. When he was asked if he’d given any women the Quaaludes he’d procured without their knowledge, he refused to answer. Which is damning in itself, but still not evidence enough.
Why was Cosby allowed to simply not answer a question that could have provided the evidence needed for prosecution? What’s the difference between that and a murderer simply refusing to relinquish his weapon, the one piece of evidence remaining?
But murders are included within the small subset of “exceptionally serious” crimes which do not have statutes of limitations. fifty years from now, today’s unsolved murders might still be solved. But a victim of rape may never get justice.
Some would argue that this is their own doing, for not coming forward in a timely manner. Why did they wait so long? "What can justice do to help if these women fail to help themselves?" You hear such sentiments all the time.
But they fail to take into consideration how cruel the world can be to a man or woman who claims to be raped. The women who came forward about being raped by Cosby were deemed “liars” by many. Other victims are accused of “asking for it,” “for putting themselves in that situation," for "failing to protect themselves" or simply "not fighting hard enough." They’re ostracized by the perpetrator’s friends and supporters—imagine how many supporters a celebrity of Cosby’s caliber once had. Cosby’s daughter insisted that the rape “accusers” should be the ones going to jail.
“Coming out” as a victim of rape is so often a second trauma that those still reeling cannot always hope to endure.
Unless new evidence appears, Bill Cosby won’t be going to jail. The best we can do in the meanwhile, as Slate's Hanna Rosin says, is continue to voice our censure (with our words and our wallets) of Cosby, our support for the survivors, and never forget what has transpired.
The best we can do in the long run is better serve other victims of rape: create an environment where they aren’t afraid to speak until it’s too late.