Columns, Opinion

Lessons from the Left: Even after Cosby, getting justice for sex crimes is slim

On Thursday, a jury found Bill Cosby guilty on all three counts of sexual assault. Though more than 60 women have accused the fallen comedian of some form of sexual misconduct over the course of five years, Cosby’s only really been found guilty for assaulting one woman: Andrea Constand. According to various media outlets, there was substantial evidence that he assaulted her while she was unconscious.

The guilty verdict is in many ways a victory in an era defined in part for its focus on women and their experiences involving sexual misconduct, assault, harassment and marginalization both inside and outside of the workplace. Nevertheless, only one out of 60 women got justice, and there are a conglomerate of out-and-about sexual predators who haven’t had and probably never will have their day in court.

What’s difficult about the Cosby case and other sexual assault cases are that many hinge on existing statue of limitation laws. Once an allotted period of time is over — in some cases 10, 15 or 20 years — the crime can no longer be tried in court.

The laws for statute of limitations are pretty depressing. According to RAINN, only seven of the 50 states do not have statute of limitations for sex crimes on the books, whereas the rest have some kind of time limit that take someone court for felony sexual assault.

None of this is abstract, either. These laws affect people’s lives. Take, for example, the Golden State Killer case. Though arrested just last week for the murders of 12 people, he won’t be tried for the 45 violent rapes he committed in the 1970s because the statute of limitations for sex crimes in California is 10 years.

In addition, evidence for sexual assault cases is notoriously hard to come by. Thanks to the statute of limitations, rape kits often get thrown away, and so physical evidence — insofar as there is any — hinges on the little things like bruises, expert witnesses and medical reports. If there isn’t physical evidence, the case becomes a “he-said-she-said” affair, and women have to stand their ground and hope that someone believes them. If they’re up against a well-connected man, a man of status, money and power, then the battle is almost entirely uphill, and a narrative gets created that she’s lying or trying to take him down.

That’s if sexual assault cases even make it to court. In reality, only about one in five of sexual assault cases actually get tried in court, whereas the rest either go through a kind of private arbitration (like a university system) or don’t get prosecuted at all.

Don’t get me wrong, the Cosby case is a great start, but it’s an anomaly in a society still riddled with sexual assault and steeped in a culture that prioritizes the reputations of its boys instead of the sanity and humanity of its girls.

I hate to bring personal examples into argumentative pieces like this, but even as I write it, I’m writing it about a known serial abuser who, despite having been tried through a university system by six different girls, walks around without any charges. Rest assured, there are cases like this at every school, every institution and every workplace. It’s right in front of our faces — sometimes literally and unfortunately so.

But there is hope, and it starts with doing away with statute of limitation laws for sex crimes and gathering evidence more carefully when a woman reports an assault. It starts with enforcing Title IX in universities, and it starts with calling it like it is.

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