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Cosby's release from prison is why sexual assault victims don't speak out. 

On June 30, Bill Cosby was released from prison two years into a three- to 10-year sentence when his assault conviction was overturned by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. A total of 60 women shared their stories about Cosby’s assault against them and his pattern of drugging and then raping them while they were unconscious, yet Cosby now walks free. 

Bruce L. Castor Jr., who was the district attorney in Montgomery Country, Pennsylvania, at the time of Cosby’s trial, made a deal with Cosby to hear him out and to not charge him in 2005 based on information he provided. However, when sitting for depositions in a lawsuit filed by Andrea Constand, one of Cosby’s accusers, Cosby had admitted that he’d used his prescribed quaaludes to drug women, and he’s since been released from prison due to a technicality in his case. In Cosby’s later trial, prosecutors used this evidence against him, breaking the binding promise Castor made. In Barbara McQuade’s article in the New York Times, she puts it simply: “The court is merely enforcing the promise Mr. Castor made.”

The most concerning fact of the ruling is that Cosby’s release is final, due to the violation of his fifth amendment right and the unconditional promise Castor made with him. Despite the victims who shared their stories and Cosby’s confession to rape, the justice system once again favors individuals with money and power, just as it did in other cases such as Luann de Lesseps’, who was on the “Real Housewives of New York” and ended up receiving a better plea deal.  

In an article by Jocelyn Noveck for ABC News, Noveck interviews Indira Henard, director of the DC Rape Crisis Center. After the news of Cosby’s release, “the center’s hotline was ‘off the hook,’” Henard said, and the center even had to hold support sessions Wednesday evening for survivors to process the news. 

The progress made by the #MeToo movement has taken a step back since Cosby’s ruling. Survivors might not come forward because they “don’t believe it will bring justice,” Noveck said in her article, with Cosby’s release discouraging individuals to share their story.

Patricia Steuer, one of the women who accused Cosby of assault, states that his release is a “discouraging message to sexual assault survivors,” in a CNN article by Madeline Holcombe. And Heidi Thomas, a woman who testified against Cosby, described his release as “a punch to the gut,” according to Ashley Michels’ KDVR article.

The #MeToo movement started with victims sharing their stories, including actress Ashley Judd sharing her story about Harvey Weinstein, and it immediately grew on social media as other women related. Cosby’s sentence to prison was only one of the landmarks of the movement, and awareness only expanded from there. Although the movement started in the U.S., it’s spread around the world, empowering women to stand up for themselves. Yaqiu Wang writes in her Washington Post article that the movement resulted in “individual victims [taking] their cases to court” in China. She also highlights billionaire Liu Qiangdong’s case for an alleged rape and anchor Zhu Jun for sexual harassment, two powerful and rich men in China.

The movement also affected Indian women, according to Rituparna Chatterjee’s article in the Washington Post. Many women narrated stories of “pain and horror,” often about “acquaintance assault.” Again, the horror of sexual assault is a universal issue for women.

While it’s more common for sexual assault victims to be female, males are also at risk. Furthermore, young people between the ages 18-34 are at the highest risk, the problem becoming more and more common. JMU specifically has a sexual assault problem, and it’s extremely worrying to young female students like myself who have trouble feeling safe on and off campus.

Cosby’s ability to escape the consequences illustrates why survivors don’t want to share their stories. In Melissa Roberto’s article on Fox News, on his first night home, Cosby got to eat “hot fresh pizza and [was] cracking jokes with those close to him” while women who still may be mourning watch their rapist walk free. 

Julia Cheng is a freshman media arts and design major. Contact Julia at chengjm@dukes.jmu.edu.