LOS ANGELES, July 1 (Reuters) – Bill Cosby’s surprise release from prison has raised concern among women’s advocates that it would erode recent gains in Hollywood and beyond to hold men accountable for harassment and abuse.
The 83-year-old comedian and actor was released from custody on Wednesday after Pennsylvania’s highest court overturned a 2018 verdict convicting him of sexual assault. Activists, who celebrated his conviction as a turning point, strongly condemned the new decision.
“When the system ignores dozens of accusers in a situation like this – because of a technical flaw, not because of the evidence that led to the conviction – it creates the perception that it is not worth the trouble. let the victims come forward, “said a statement from Women in Film, a nonprofit group that advocates for equal opportunity in entertainment.
The group called on “everyone in positions of power in the film industries to end the culture of silence and acceptance that has allowed Cosby to prey on so many women.”
Time’s Up, an organization founded in 2018 after allegations of sexual assault and rape by producer Harvey Weinstein, said the survivors of Cosby “have come forward with great courage against a powerful man in great personal danger.”
The Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund has helped more than 5,000 people with complaints of sexual harassment or discrimination over the past three years, from restaurant workers to hotel staff and security guards, Tina Tchen said , CEO and President of the Time’s Up Foundation. Two-thirds of them were women in low-paid jobs.
“We hope this (the Cosby decision) does not deter other survivors from speaking out because we need to put in place better accountability measures and ways to hold perpetrators accountable,” Tchen said. “But it’s hard when you see results like this happening.”
Cosby was convicted of drugging and assaulting Andrea Constand, an employee of his alma mater Temple University, at his home in 2004.
More than 50 women had accused Cosby of multiple sexual assault over nearly five decades, but Constand’s allegations were the only ones that were not too old to warrant criminal charges.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that Cosby should not have faced charges after entering into a no-prosecution agreement with a district attorney more than 15 years ago. He was released after serving more than two years of a three to ten year sentence.
After his release, Cosby posted a statement on Twitter, saying “I have never changed my position or my story. I have always maintained my innocence.” Constand and his attorneys said the conviction overturned was ” not only disappointing but worrying that it may discourage those who seek justice for sexual assault in the criminal justice system from reporting or participating in the prosecution of the perpetrator. ”
Cosby’s conviction came just months after reports on Weinstein were published. These accounts helped fuel the #MeToo movement of women speaking out about sexual harassment and assault and the ousting of powerful men in politics, media and other industries.
Weinstein is serving a 23-year prison sentence following his 2020 conviction in Manhattan for sexual assault and third-degree rape. He is awaiting his extradition to Los Angeles to face additional charges.
Anita Hill, the lawyer who charged Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas with sexual harassment in 1991, said the Cosby decision showed how “failings in our criminal justice system make accountability for sexual assault impossible.”
“Systems that keep powerful abusers accountable, protect workers and prevent abuser protection agreements are urgently needed in the entertainment and other industries,” said Hill, who chairs the Hollywood Commission, a group founded in 2017 to combat abuse and power disparities in the industry. .
Lawyer Lisa Bloom, who represented three of Cosby’s accusers, said she warns victims of sexual assault that “the system still overwhelmingly favors the rich and powerful.”
“You need a superhuman level of strength and courage,” Bloom said on Twitter. “Fortunately, many victims have it. All of Cosby’s other victims, it’s time to come forward!”
Reporting by Lisa Richwine; edited by Diane Craft
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