How Dismantling Rape Myths Won Cosby Conviction

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Bill Cosby

Bill Cosby 2015 Sexual Assault Mugshot

Landing a conviction in the second trial of actor Bill Cosby meant dismantling rape myths and educating jurors on the truths behind their preconceived beliefs on sexual assault, according to Kristen Gibbons Feden, the special prosecutor in the case.

Gibbons Feden, speaking at a conference titled “Crimes Against Women” last week in Dallas, Texas, addressed an audience full of law enforcement, health care professionals, advocates, prosecutors and others on how her team won one the first prominent #metoo case and how Andrea Constand, who was sexually assaulted by Cosby in 2004, finally received justice.

“In order to obtain that conviction, we had to overcome a defendant with nearly limitless resources and defense attorneys adamant about reinforcing rape myths,” Gibbons Feden said in the keynote speech. “Our task was to help the jury untangle rape myths from reality. That was my team’s task. And that’s my task now.”

In the spring of 2018, Cosby was found guilty on three counts of aggravated indecent assault in Philadelphia for drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand at his home.

The verdict came a year after Cosby’s previous trial ended in a mistrial. A different panel of jurors said they were deadlocked and could not unanimously agree on a verdict, as reported by CNN.

The second time around, prosecutors decided to educate the jury about the realities of trauma and the victims of sexual assault.

They put Dr. Barbara Ziv, a former psychiatrist, on the stand to explain to jurors what some of the “gaps” might mean in Constand’s testimony. For example, Constand couldn’t remember the exact date of the assault, which Dr. Ziv explained was normal, but could be used by Cosby’s lawyers to discredit her.

At least 58 women have accused Bill Cosby of sexually assaulting them between the 1960s and the late 2000s. The accusations span the continent: 19 cities, 11 states and one foreign country, Canada, according to the Washington Post. 

But due to statue of limitation laws, Constand was the only victim whose case held up in court.

Cosby was sentenced for three to ten years in prison for for drugging and sexually assaulting Constand at his home 14 years ago and ordered to pay a $25,000 fine.

But perhaps the most memorable part of Gibbons Feden’s speech was when she painted the picture of a rape scene grounded in mythology.

She gave the following vignette as an example:

A woman dressed in modest wear is in a foreign place when a stranger physically overpowers her and sexually assaults her. The woman, distraught and broken, immediately calls the police and recounts the experience, forensic evidence is collected from the rape kit, the man is arrested and convicted, and justice is served. The end.

“This generic vignette is ripe with rape mythology that permits legal culture even today, after Cosby’s convicted, after [Harvey] Weinstein’s arrested, after [Kevin] Spacey’s arrested. Even today with the #metoo movement it still permeates our society,” she said.

Gibbons Feden then proceeded to debunk several myths presented in the scene.

She noted that, whether or not a woman is dressed in modest wear is irrelevant (or should be) to the story and the question of consent. But too often, police, prosecutors and jurors are interested in what the victim was wearing and whether or not she was “asking for it,” Gibbons Feden noted.

Editor’s Note: one of the jurors in the first trial questioned Ms. Constand’s clothing and what it suggested about her desire to have sex with Bill Cosby.

Gibbons Feden acknowledged that most rapes are not committed by a stranger, but rather a close friend or an acquaintance, making it even more confusing for the victim.

“The deeper the ties between the victim and the perpetrator, the greater confusion and complexity of emotions the survivor is feeling. In the case of Ms. Constand, he was a mentor. He was a major benefactor of the program she worked for [Temple basketball].”

Gibbons Feden stated that most victims of sexual assault don’t call the police to report what happened.

“The U.S. Bureau of Justice statistics describes rape as the most under-reported crime,” she said. “Studies suggest that someone between 5 and 35 percent of sexual assaults are reported to the police.”

She pointed out that delayed reporting is the “norm” for most victims of sexual assault, and sometimes it takes weeks, months, years and even decades for individuals to come forward.

Gibbons Feden concluded that reality is a whole lot messier than mythology.

“Still today, there’s a cognitive dissonance that the average person experiences, including law enforcement, when trying to fit the chaotic actions, decisions and explanations of victims of sexual assault into a neat box bound by mythology on each side.”

“But my hope is that someday […] the only remaining myth about rape is that the perpetrator will always get away with it.”

One thought on “How Dismantling Rape Myths Won Cosby Conviction

  1. Pennsylvania has no “consent” definition in their penal code. This needs to change. I have long advocated to enact #FGKIA into law – Freely Given, Knowledgeable and Informed Agreement. In fact both my TEDx Talk and my latest book, “Your Consent – The Key to Conquering Sexual Assault” underscores this critical need.

    Judge Steven O’Neill told the Cosby jury to use their discretion since no definition exists. The prior jury failed to convict because the definition for consent was not clear. Fortunately, the foreman of the 2nd jury had seen a concept of consent very similar to mine from work she’d done on a privacy reform for technology. We cannot count on every jury having a foreman with this specific knowledge. We MUST enact the correct definition for consent into Pennsylvania’s laws!

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