Indira Henard was the director of DC Rape Crisis Center. She received the text message Wednesday and thought her phone wasn’t working correctly. A colleague sent the message to Indira Henard, stating that she thought her phone was not reading correctly. “Cosby is walking out of prison.”
Henard stated, “I turned on the news and there was it. My heart just dropped.” “I thought about what all our survivors would feel.”
Henard said that the hotline at the center was not working. Henard stated that survivors needed a place to process their emotions and that people were asking him, “What happened?” It’s not clear to me. He was convicted. “Why would they do that?” The center offered support Wednesday night and set up emergency sessions Thursday to address the news.
America saw Bill Cosby, once called “America’s Dad”, go to prison almost three years ago. It was perhaps the most remarkable development of the #MeToo movement. The hashtag had been born in late 2017, with accusations against Harvey Weinstein. Advocates for victims of sexual assault hoped that the movement would bring about an era where harassers and abusers are held accountable. In many ways, the movement did. In recent years, victims have felt more empowered to pursue justice for abuses that occurred years ago, in the hope that their claims would be treated more seriously.
On Wednesday, however, many worried that Cosby’s release from prison would have a chilling impact on survivors who are often reluctant to come forward for fear of being punished. They wondered if the movement’s momentum would be slowed further by the pandemic.
Henard stated that “it’s been hard day.” It’s a very difficult moment, not only for the survivors of the Cosby case, who came forward at great personal risk but also for all survivors.
Tarana Burke was the activist who gave #MeToo its name. Her first reaction to Pennsylvania’s decision was shock, definitely shock.
Burke stated in an interview that “And as the shock settled and I started to see some of the (social-media) commentary coming in,… we, people who do this work across all the fields, started huddling together in order to discuss what our response would have been.” It was just concern for survivors. It will be difficult to sleep.
Burke, who was a victim of sexual assault in her youth, stated that “the fact of the matter” and “we won’t see for a while the ramifications.” People will say that they were sexually assaulted one week before the Cosby verdict. The backlash that hit the Internet made me reconsider my decision. We won’t be hearing those stories for quite some time. However, those of us who have experienced similar situations know how it feels and where it lands. We also know the consequences.
RAINN, an anti-sexual violence organization, reported that its hotline calls increased by 24 percent on Wednesday compared to the previous week. Scott Berkowitz (executive director) said, “This is one those times that I really pray people read beyond the headlines.”
Berkowitz stated in an interview that “I believe the country believes victims.” Berkowitz expressed concern that many survivors chose not to report to the police. For those who report, it is a difficult decision as they know it will be a lengthy and difficult process through the justice system. It makes sense to go through that if it is possible to get justice. He stated that RAINN would educate the public that the issue that allowed Bill Cosby to escape is not something that could be raised in a normal case.
Lisa Banks, a prominent attorney in #MeToo issues and her partner Debra Katz, sought to make this point. She stated that the message must be clear and simple: “This was a mistake made by prosecutors, an extremely unusual one, and a technicality that is unlikely ever to happen again.”
She was referring specifically to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision that Kevin Steele, District Attorney, was required to honor his predecessor’s promise to not charge comedian despite the fact that there was no evidence of such an agreement being written.
Banks stated that “Sure, it’s devastating to see the first major #MeToo conviction walk out of prison.” “I don’t believe that’s something many people will be able to get over very easily. However, I will mention one thing Andrea Constand (Cosby accuser), said after the verdict: “Truth prevails.” I believe that I did. I don’t want anyone to feel discouraged by this. I do know it will be difficult.
Anita Hill, activist, felt that the term “technicality” was not adequate to describe the deeply flawed legal system she believes is stacked against survivors.
Hill stated that the issue of the non prosecution agreement was “revealing in the difficulty for women to actively prove their claims to prosecutors in court by a juror.” Hill also said that she was troubled by the fact that the court left open the question as to whether five additional accusers were improperly used against the prosecution, as Cosby had claimed, “creating another uncertainty.”
Hill said that uncertainty is what keeps people from speaking up. Hill was famously the one who made harassment claims against Clarence Thomas during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing in 1991. They don’t know what is going to happen. You know it will be brutal.
She said that the general public won’t be able to understand the complexity of how it happened. “There was a jury verdict. He was already in prison. He’s free now.
Hill, who is now the Hollywood Commission’s chair, said that #MeToo “is a work-in-progress”. It is difficult to change old systems. They require a new mindset. We must keep pushing. We have the social movement and the public outrage. We need to reform the systems that have existed for so long.
Henard stated that she was spending Thursday with her colleagues from the DC Rape crisis centre listening to survivors. She said, “I am really concerned about the chilling effects this will have.” This is especially true for Black and Brown survivors. We are witnessing tears and pain. Survivors wonder, “What is it going take for a verdict not to be turned over due to a technicality?” She said that Cosby’s accusations never made it to court, many times because the statute had expired.
Henard stated Wednesday’s court ruling, as shocking as it was for many, “in not way diminishes” the positive work of #MeToo.
She said, “We have made tremendous strides over the past few years.” She added that there are many more amazing things that have been done and will continue to be done. This moment reminds us all, especially those who are on the ground, there is still much to be done.