Thursday, April 26, 2018
Bill Cosby was found guilty on three counts of aggravated indecent assault. This verdict came at the end of a second trial, the first one having ended in a mistrial last year. What happened in between? Certainly the lawyers had time to organize their better cases. Witnesses had time to prepare for the emotional strain of testifying in a highly publicized trial. But was there also a cultural shift?
Sisters organized beginning with the Women's March. #MeToo and Times Up happened. Both men and women began to believe women leading media to speculate that the verdict reflects the impact of the #MeToo movement.
What is speculative is whether this case will translate into a higher rate of convictions in sexual assault cases generally. This may be unlikely. During Cosby's second trial, several women testified as to Cosby's pattern of assaults. This is a result that is unlikely happen in other jurisdictions where establishing a pattern of behavior is not generally permitted in criminal trials.
In order to create an effective shift on the criminal law side, prosecutors must have a sincere and educated interest in trying the difficult cases. Prosecutors must find effective ways to persuade jurors to believe women and understand trauma. One ingredient in creating a possible a sea change in sexual assault prosecutions would be to have trauma experts not only testifying in sexual assault cases, but working with prosecutors as cases are planned. If history is any guide, states will be unwilling to commit the resources to support effective prosecution. Sexual assault survivors are reluctant to report, let alone prosecute, the crimes committed against them. When we begin to see improved results for women in local prosecutions, then we can credit the movement in creating a broader culture shift. Until then, we know #MeToo remains effective in exposing celebs.