“America’s Dad” spent the night behind bars last night. It was the third night in a row. In all likelihood, he will spend at least the next three years in a Pennsylvania state prison. At 81 years of age, infirm and legally blind, Bill Cosby has gone from entertainer/actor/TV star beloved by millions to convicted sex offender/threat to society.
His fall from grace has not been swift, but as a symbol of the emergence of the #MeToo movement it carries a potentially powerful message: Men who use their positions of power to sexually assault women in any way can and will be held accountable. #We believe you.
Cosby was sentenced Tuesday to three to 10 years in prison. He must serve at least three years before being eligible for parole. The sentence culminated a decades-long career in which Cosby presented an affable, gentle, caring personality publicly while preying sexually on women privately. He admitted in a civil lawsuit to drugging women to make them more receptive to his sexual assaults.
Most of this behavior went unreported because of Cosby’s popularity and influence in the entertainment industry and the women’s feelings of shame and fear they would not be believed. In most cases, the statute of limitations for reporting such crimes had passed when the women felt confident enough to go public.
The case that finally snared Cosby involved a former employee at Temple University, his alma mater, to whom he was a mentor and unwanted sex partner. Andrea Constand’s initial complaint against Cosby in 2004 was not prosecuted, a district attorney citing insufficient evidence. Cosby did settle out of court for $3.4 million in a civil lawsuit and undoubtedly thought he was done with Constand.
But 10 years later, with many women coming forward publicly to tell similar stories about Cosby, a new prosecutor filed charges. The first trial resulted in a hung jury. The second trial, in which the judge allowed testimony from other women describing similar assaults by Cosby, resulted in conviction. More than 50 women have said Cosby in some way sexually assaulted them, usually by drugging them first.
Judge Steven T. O’Neill, in pronouncing his sentence, said, “Mr. Cosby, years later this has all circled back to you. The day has come. The time has come.”
In Cosby’s case, and in the cases of other prominent entertainment, political and business figures facing claims and criminal charges of sexual assault, that time has crystallized in the #MeToo movement, which has featured some courageous, well-known women going public with their stories of sexual abuse and giving other women the courage to do the same.
Constand, who has moved to Canada and a new life, once said of her situation: “I was a young woman brimming with confidence and looking forward to a future bright with possibilities. … Bill Cosby took my beautiful, healthy young spirit and crushed it. He robbed me of my health and vitality, my open nature, and my trust in myself and others.”
“It is time for justice,” Judge Stevens said in sentencing Cosby.
In fact, it is long overdue.