What does a mistrial in the Bill Cosby sexual assault case mean for victims?

For us at KCSARC, we wonder: Are we making progress for victims?

With the jurors of last week’s trial deadlocked, and a mistrial declared, I re-read my thoughts from last year when 35 women came forward stating that Bill Cosby had sexually assaulted them.  My own assessment of our progress has changed—and I’m motivated and encouraged.

  • It’s progress that our understanding of sexual assault and willingness to acknowledge its prevalence enabled 35 women assaulted by Cosby to speak out.

  • It’s progress that the case went to trial—a step that many sexual assault cases never take.

  • And it’s progress that many of the 12 jurors believe Andrea Constand, one of nearly three dozen women who reported being sexually assaulted by Cosby.

Sexual assault remains our country’s most underreported crime. Nationally, only 40% of all victims report to law enforcement, and only 1% of those convicted of sexual assault are incarcerated.

Part of KCSARC’s mission is to create a climate where victims can come forward and speak out. For adults choosing to report crimes against them, the criminal and civil justice system should be a realistic option.

The charges against Bill Cosby, even though the case ended in a mistrial, show a that:

  • More people understand what sexual assault looks like.

  • More individuals can identify their own experiences as assault or abuse.

  • We are starting to acknowledge that sex offenders, like victims, come from every background.

For our society to help victims heal, hold offenders accountable, and to move to a community free of sexual violence, these pieces need to be in place.

In part, the results of this case show progress because victims were willing to come forward and report these crimes, years after the events, in the face of media attention. Some of the jurors in the case—people with typical understandings of sexual violence—believe Andrea Constand and the other women assaulted by Cosby.

While we still have work to do in changing our culture’s understanding of sexual violence, I believe this demonstrates a shift in the public’s attitudes around what sexual assault looks like and who commits these crimes.

Ultimately, the mistrial outcome underlines a continuing problem with the legal system that we face repeatedly: offenders are not often held accountable.

We want victims to speak out—and more are, every year. To match, we must work to change the culture that informs attitudes about sexual violence so that people like jurors, law enforcement officers, investigators, legislators, and judges believe victims when they come forward.


We can continue to provide services to victims of sexual violence and advocate for state and national change because of your support. Donate today.

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