Bill Cosby & “don’t you dare ask why women don’t come forward!"

Will Bill Cosby’s controversial release this week further encourage women to not file charges against sexual criminals? Yes.

Should it be an excuse for more women to not file charges? No.

Cosby's accusers are entitled to see his release as a setback. But are legal or judicial setbacks, however disastrous, an excuse to boycott the system? Can I refuse to wear a helmet because the helmeted die too? Or refuse to stop for a traffic light because even motorists who’re perfectly still at signals, get killed too?

Does a systemic dysfunction make the entire system dysfunctional and worthy of abandonment? Or does it just mean that well-meaning women (and men) need to work harder and better to fix it?

If nearly everyone lauded the system that convicted-sentenced Harvey Weinstein, shouldn’t they continue to work with the same system that seems to have let Bill Cosby off the hook? Or is Hollywood’s #MeToo determined to look for a new system instead of plugging present gaps, however gaping?
Cancel culture is so easy, so tempting, so invigorating – why not cancel the justice system while we’re at it!

Defense Attorney Jennifer Bonjean clarified on the Cuomo Prime Time show: “This was a prosecution on one person’s allegation. This wasn’t an indictment involving five women, sixty women whatever the number is. This was one woman’s claim that was prosecuted.”

What’s Bonjean implying even if she can't possibly say it?

Had more women consistently filed charges over the years soon after incidents rather than years (or decades) later and had better prosecution teams followed through to conviction, things may have been different.

Sadly, many celeb and Hollywood #MeToo champions have been misleading women with seemingly purposeful but scandalously pointless slogans:

  • You don’t have to name your offender. Just say “it happened to #MeToo”. Speak when you’re comfortable, even if it takes 20-30 years; you don’t have to file charges.

  • Believe all women! Except Ms Rotunno who defended Weinstein, Ms Bonjean who defended Cosby and sundry other women; you never know what they’re up to.

  • It's not a problem if you focus only on catharsis, sharing, healing and moving on. Why get re-traumatized by the system? Other women yet to be raped by ''that guy" can take care of themselves – not your job to keep other women safe and all men virtuous.

  • If cases filed by six women are thwarted, why should sixty bother?

  • Don't you dare ask “why didn’t you report, why not sooner?”

Four years into #MeToo, some of its loudest lady champions from Hollywood, who inflated their social media profiles by furiously rallying women around shared victimhood, are now so busy promoting themselves, commercial brands and bandwagons, that survivors who are struggling for last-mile justice will be lucky if they get so much as a nod in their direction from these ladies.

If Hollywood's #MeToo apostles have turned apostates or now simply have bigger fish to fry, what do survivors do? If the shrill women who earlier seemed to care about nothing but justice for fellow-women have now morphed meekly back into echoing tokenisms - that many men are already notorious for - what hope do survivors have?

But some women - tragically too few of them - are saying the opposite:

  • As Samantha Jane Geimer reminds us, the court of public opinion isn’t a court.

  • Naming your offender is NOT enough. File charges! No "criminal", no “crime”. Airing accusations is fine, but swiftly file charges. It's not just about "sharing stories, telling your truth" it's also about filing charges, seeing it through.

  • Sixty women are NOT any truer, any more decisive than six. But if you’re lamenting abysmal conviction-sentencing rates how are you giving yourself (and other women) a higher shot at justice by lowering the proportion of cases filed?

  • Don’t just say “it happened to #MeToo”. Instead say “It happened to me too, he’s the one who did it and I’m filing charges”.

  • Press charges now, preferably not 30-40 years later; some of Cosby's accusers are recalling incidents from the 1960s and 70s! Don't lobby to tweak the statute of limitations in a way that'll make it impossible for prosecutors to find, let alone present, realistic evidence. Instead improve the legal landscape so that women can file charges sooner.

  • If merely 300 of 1000 rapes are reported, add your voice to the 300 speaking, not to the 700 silences! It may at the very least deter the same man from targeting other women next week, next month, next year? Isn't each year of Weinstein's imprisonment, 365 days when women who feared him, feel safer? At least from him? He's in prison only because of women who spoke up. He got there late not only because of women who kept silent, but their silence certainly helped.

  • Catharsis, sharing, healing may help you as survivor, less so other women who are yet to become victims. If you can, do more not less. Sure, raise hell about the justice system. But march toward it, not away from it.

  • Do NOT believe all women (or all men). But if women file cases, take them seriously; they usually don't come forward casually about sexual assault. Support them through to verdict with the urgency and integrity they deserve.

  • Make the judicial system more equitable and women will start winning more cases than they lose. Amber Tamblyn offers ideas on an overdue overhaul. The TIME's UP Legal Defense Fund is a superb example of pointed, productive action.

Bonjean said:

“All of the alleged victims had every opportunity to press their claims at the time that the statute of limitations allowed them to do so. For various reasons they chose not to and I’m not here to judge why they may have chosen not to.
But we still have a system of laws and rules and a Constitution that requires us to play by the rules. And you can’t cheat to get a conviction just because we now have a movement that wants to make a platform inside the courtroom for women who chose not to press their claims or didn’t press their claims for some reason or another.
That’s fine on social media. That’s fine in the newspapers. But in the courtroom we have to still follow the rules. We can’t make it a platform about women coming forward, who didn’t at the time, when it would have been possible to prosecute those claims...we have a trend ...where the courtrooms are being infiltrated by the court of public opinion. And that leads to miscarriages of justice...we don’t live in a world where we try people’s character, we try crimes.”

Naturally, Bonjean and her colleagues will fight for due process for her clients. Naturally, many women are understandably upset with an inexcusably entrenched patriarchy seeking refuge in that very due process. But are they misdirecting future victims with their “hell with the us or leave us alone”? Especially if they don't offer young girls more viable alternatives and not much more than the idea of nursing wounds?

As some women dangerously play up the futility of coming forward, others, including some of Cosby's accusers, are, in spite of setbacks, hoping that women will still come forward.

Yes, not everyone will believe you. Yes, it’s another hard slog. Yes, the system is broken. But is that ever an excuse to give up filing or pursuing cases?

Men who are predators want nothing more than for women to merely share stories, talk healing and move on, or better still, give up. Ironically, women urging other women to do just that are, circuitously, preserving the misogyny they work so hard to punish.

Rudolph Lambert Fernandez is an independent writer writing on pop culture.

Twitter: @RudolphFernandz


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