Disgraced actor-comedian Bill Cosby had two words to say to Pennsylvania District Judge Elizabeth McHugh when she ruled May 24 that he must stand trial for sexual assault. The words were “thank you.”
The two words were more than simply a case of Cosby being polite. The words were vindication for dozens of women. These are the women who came forth to say that Cosby drugged, fondled, molested, abused, intimidated, and of course, raped them over the course of many years.
They suffered mightily for coming forth. They were lambasted from pillar to post as liars, cheats, sluts, publicity seekers, and every critic’s favorite, gold diggers.
Thousands of others never bought Cosby’s long, loud and bitter denials that he was the innocent victim of a giant con game, or the serial denier’s favorite, the victim of a sinister plot by take your pick: the “white man,” “white media,” “white establishment” or simply some unnamed, nebulous white conspirators to bring down a fabulously popular, rich, supremely successful black man. They also said thank you.
There were also more than a few legal experts who did not buy the virtual article of faith that there were no legal grounds to prosecute him because the statute of limitations had long since run out on most of the claims. There were just too many alleged victims. That meant that there had to be a case somewhere that fit the bill for a legal prosecution.
Meanwhile, Cosby fed into the conspiracy paranoia and the public trashing of the women by filing motion after motion to duck prosecution and defamation of character countersuit after countersuit against his various women accusers. His holding action sufficiently muddied the stream to cast doubt while delaying what was almost certain to be the inevitable. That was his painfully long-delayed plop into a court docket.
In the much cited unsealed affidavit Cosby swore to in 2005, he confessed to giving drugs to one woman and getting drugs for other women he wanted to have sex with. This was tantamount to a smoking gun confirmation of what many of his alleged victims claimed, and that was that he plied them with drink and drugs before he sexually waylaid them.
Even without the affidavit, it was not true that a sexual abuser could get away with the crime simply by waiting out the calendar. More than two dozen states have no statute of limitation depending on circumstances in the nature and type of sexual assault. If the evidence was compelling, a Cosby could indeed be prosecuted even decades after the assault in those states.
This gross misconception about prosecuting sexual crimes implanted the dangerous public notion that rape or sexual abuse could be minimalized, marginalized or even mocked because the clock had wound down on when the crime could or even should be prosecuted.
A Cosby prosecution rightly tosses the ugly glare back on the wrong public perceptions about rape and sexual abuse and how easily the crime can still be blown off. And it is.
The Iowa Law Review, in March 2014, found that rape is routinely underreported in dozens of cities. The rape claims were dismissed out of hand with little or no investigation. The result was there were no report, no statistical count and no record of an attack.
The study zeroed in on the prime reason for this, namely disbelief. It’s that disbelief that assures men such as Cosby are reflexively believed when they scream foul at their accuser.
They lambaste their character and motives. If things get too hot, they toss out a few dollars in hush money settlements and the screams are even louder that it was all a shakedown operation in the first place and the victim is further demonized.
That wasn’t the only reason it took so long to prosecute Cosby. He wasn’t just another rich, mediagenic celebrity whose wealth, fame and celebrity status routinely shielded him from criminal charges. Cosby and men like him have deep enough pockets to hire a small army of the best public relations flacks around to spin, point fingers, and hector the media that their guy’s pristine reputation is being drug through the mud precisely because of their fame, wealth, talent and, of course, goodwill.
Cosby was a special case even by the standards of the rich and famed celebrity world. For a decade, he reigned as America’s father figure, not black father figure, but father figure. He embodied the myths, fantasies, and encrusted beliefs about the role that a caring, loving, engaged dad is supposed to have with his family.
That rendered him almost untouchable when it came to casting any dirt on his character. That’s all past now, Cosby is now just Cosby, the accused rapist, and that’s reason enough to say “thank you.”
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His latest book is “How ‘President’ Trump will Govern” (Amazon Kindle). He also is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One and the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.