After 52 hours of deliberations, the jury in the criminal case brought against Bill Cosby by Andrea Constand was unable to reach a unanimous consensus. On Saturday morning, Judge Steven O’Neill declared a mistrial.
Constand says that, in 2004, Cosby tricked her into taking three blue pills that incapacitated her and proceeded to sexually assault her. In December 2015, nearly 10 years after settling a civil suit with Constand in 2006 for an undisclosed sum, Cosby was charged with three counts of aggravated indecent assault.
Although Cosby wasn’t acquitted, and Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin R. Steele said that he planned to retry the case, a mistrial is unquestionably a win for the 79-year-old actor and comedian. A retrial will take time ― and it means that Constand will have to testify about her trauma again.
Journalist Dana DiFilippo tweeted a video of Cosby supporters celebrating after the mistrial was announced:
Before the Cosby trial began, justice felt somewhat inevitable. Because in a situation like this one, it just feels like it should be.
A man is publicly accused of sexually assaulting nearly 60 women over the course of decades. The stories are explicit, horrifying and similar. Many of them involve drugging and brutal rape. Together, they paint a picture of a serial and methodical sexual predator who used his celebrity to exploit women.
As far as the court of public opinion is concerned, Bill Cosby’s guilt was all but decided in late 2014, when the floodgates opened and women’s stories began pouring out on what felt like a near-daily basis. And it felt like, for the first time, people were listening.
Of course, this was before the country had collectively propped up a man who bragged about grabbing women’s pussies without consent to our highest office. It was before more than 15 women had publicly accused a candidate for President of the United States of sexual assault with little to no tangible impact on his support.
In the cases of both Cosby and Trump, we’re reminded that women are viewed as unreliable narrators of their own experiences, and that powerful men who are accused of perpetrating sexual violence ― even by more than a dozen women ― are assumed to be victims.
Barbara Bowman, one Cosby’s alleged victims who has been telling her story publicly since 2006, wrote about this phenomenon in an op-ed for The Washington Post in November 2014, after a Hannibal Burress joke about Cosby seemingly woke people up to the reality of his past:
Why wasn’t I believed? Why didn’t I get the same reaction of shock and revulsion when I originally reported it? Why was I, a victim of sexual assault, further wronged by victim blaming when I came forward? The women victimized by Bill Cosby have been talking about his crimes for more than a decade. Why didn’t our stories go viral?
Two and a half years later, their stories have gone viral. But the legal outcome remains uncertain.
The lack of a guilty verdict in this case speaks to the challenges that any alleged victim of sexual assault faces when seeking recourse through the criminal justice system.
There are the statutes of limitations that prevent victims who wait to speak out from seeking criminal charges. There’s the lack of sensitivity training in some police departments. There’s the backlog of rape kits. There’s the difficult-to-prosecute “he said, she said” nature of many sex crimes. There are the questions victims of sexual assault know that they’ll likely be asked: “Why didn’t you report it sooner?” “Why did you talk to him after?” “Were you drinking?” “What were you wearing?” “Were you maybe kind of asking for it?”
Not only are sexual assaults underreported, but according to RAINN, just 7 out of every 1,000 rapists will see a felony conviction. That statistic doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
Cosby may have had significantly more money and fame and press coverage than most alleged perpetrators of sexual assault and rape. It would be easy to assume that his celebrity is what protected him, that Andrea Constand would have gotten justice if her rapist were anyone else besides “America’s Dad.” But statistically, she wouldn’t have. In many ways, his situation was the exception but at the end of the day, he’s the rule.