After decades of allegations and mounting evidence, last week's criminal indictment of Bill Cosby may seem like a hard-fought victory. But we must ask the question: Why did it take almost 50 years and more than 50 alleged victims for Bill Cosby to even be charged with a crime?
As dozens of victims have come forward, one especially disturbing pattern has emerged. Mr. Cosby appears to have used his fame and success to allegedly attract and "groom" young actresses and models looking for career mentorship. After gaining their trust and offering his professional connections, Mr. Cosby would allegedly push his victims to engage in sexual acts.
When they resisted, he allegedly used quaaludes and alcohol to rape them.
Unfortunately, this is a pattern we see over and over again with abuse of all kinds (domestic violence, child abuse, human trafficking). Abusers will often build trust with their victims, and when they open up and show vulnerability, use that vulnerability to take advantage of them.
We know that grooming is a gradual, calculated process that abusers use on another person, especially when there is a power imbalance. And Mr. Cosby allegedly further used this power imbalance and his considerable wealth and influence to intimidate and silence his victims.
Yet many continue to ask why these women didn't come forward sooner. If Mr. Cosby did indeed rape them, wouldn't they have said something earlier?
The truth is that most survivors of rape face incredible obstacles in pursuing justice. They may fear the trauma that can come from retelling what happened to them in the hostile environment of a courtroom. They may realistically fear that they will not be believed, especially when the perpetrator is a powerful or beloved figure. And then there's the self-blame and doubt that so often follow an assault. On top of all this, many in law enforcement are hesitant to pursue cases that often involve little or no physical evidence, and lack eyewitnesses.
Last week's indictment represents hope for Bill Cosby's more than 50 alleged victims -- hope that justice is possible even decades later. Justice that every survivor deserves.
As we often tell survivors, it's never too late to pursue justice and healing. If you or someone you love is a survivor of rape or sexual assault, please reach out to organizations like Safe Horizon. Or call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).