Bill Cosby’s release from prison could have a chilling effect on survivors coming forward after Pennsylvania’s highest court threw out the famed comic’s conviction on Wednesday, advocates for sexual assault victims told Fox News.
“It is incredibly disappointing. It is shocking that someone could have committed so many sexual assaults and get away with it because of a procedural decision,” Scott Berkowitz, the president of the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, said Wednesday.Cosby was released from prison nearly three years into a three- to 10-year sentence after he was convicted in 2018 of sexually assaulting Temple University employee Andrea Constand in 2004.
Former Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor agreed not to prosecute Cosby criminally in the mid-2000s in exchange for Cosby’s testimony in a civil case.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that District Attorney Kevin Steele, who arrested and brought charges against Cosby in 2015, was bound by his predecessor’s promise not to prosecute Cosby.
The court called Cosby’s 2015 arrest “an affront to fundamental fairness, particularly when it results in a criminal prosecution that was forgone for more than a decade.”
Advocates for sexual assault victims say this could be discouraging to survivors who already don’t have faith in the criminal justice system.
“I think anytime survivors receive a message that they will not be believed, or that justice won’t be served, or that the process towards justice serves to create more harm and more trauma, then some survivors will choose not to go forward,” Renee Branson, the executive director of the Sexual Assault Resource Agency, told Fox News.
Berkowitz said that survivors make a “very rational decision” about whether to go to the police to report sexual assault.
“The process is hard on survivors and it’s only worth going through, in the end, if there’s a reasonable chance at justice,” Berkowitz said.
Andrea Constand, whose allegations helped land Cosby behind bars, urged “all victims to have their voices heard” on Wednesday after the comic was released from prison.
“Today’s majority decision regarding Bill Cosby is not only disappointing but of concern in that it may discourage those who seek justice for sexual assault in the criminal justice system from reporting or participating in the prosecution of the assailant or may force a victim to choose between filing either a criminal or civil action,” Constand said in a statement on Twitter.