It all started with a joke in 2014. Comedian Hannibal Buress (you may recognise him as the dentist from Broad City) ousted Bill Cosby’s years of sexual harassment and assault during his stand-up performance. What Buress thought was common in Hollywood folklore actually turned out to unveil decades of Cosby’s unchecked predatory behaviour.
‘Bill Cosby has the f*ckin’ smuggest old-black-man public persona that I hate,’ said Buress. ‘He gets on TV, “Pull your pants up black people, I was on TV in the ‘80s! I can talk down to you because I had a successful sitcom!” Yeah, but you rape women, Bill Cosby, so turn the crazy down a couple notches.’
Buress’s read of Cosby went viral and the investigation began in 2015. Almost 60 women alleged that one of the biggest stars in American television sexually coerced and assaulted them. Thirty-five of those women came forward with their experiences and so ignited the allegations against the formerly beloved actor.
The woman who took Bill down
Andrea Constand opened a case against him, accusing the actor of sexually assaulting her back in 2004. It turned out she wasn’t the first and would not be the last. Model Chloe Goins sued him for the sexual assault which she alleges happened at the Playboy Mansion back in 2008. Goins attempted to take action but was ignored by prosecutors. Soon enough, women were coming out in droves to claim the actor is anything but America’s Dad.
Cosby drugged his victims with Quaaludes (a powerful sedative) and had raped women for sport since the ’70s. After being embroiled in a court case where the 80-year-old actor’s trial failed to reach a verdict, he has finally been convicted of three counts of aggravated assault.
The story coincides with the #MeToo movement, Hollywood’s campaign to stop the stigma surrounding sexual violence by speaking out and holding perpetrators accountable. #MeToo and its sister initiative #TimesUp signalled the end of normalising rape culture and sexual harassment across industries – it also signified a time of reckoning for seemingly untouchable men.
Perpetrators are being thrown out the Academy community
Recently, Cosby was kicked off the prestigious US Academy of Motion Pictures and Science, the same organisation responsible for the Academy Awards. In a statement, the Academy announced, ‘The board continues to encourage ethical standards that require members to uphold the Academy’s values of respect for human dignity.’ This comes after a new code of conduct, that’s dedicated to upholding workplace-misconduct allegations seriously.
He’s not the only one, either. Now, it’s Roman Polanski’s turn.
Roman Polanski is the revered/disgraced director who made Oscar-winning films The Pianist and Chinatown. Polanski raped a 13-year-old teenage girl back in the ’70s and has been on the run from the law since.
Polanski was found guilty of the assault but fled to France to avoid extradition. He hasn’t returned to the States since 1978. The industry has gone to great lengths to protect Polanski in the same ways the patriarchy protects its own by silencing and shaming survivors of assault, while making concessions for perpetrators of sexual violence. The biggest blow to Polanski’s legacy is his expulsion from the Academy, an effective ousting from the Hollywood community who sheltered him for decades.
Jennifer Long, a former prosecutor based in Philadelphia and an advocate for stopping gender-based violence says, ‘I think the case represents a rejection of what is a very old, tired and common defence of blaming and shaming victims for their own rape and assault.’
Instead of slut-shaming and victim-blaming survivors, we’re now taking a moment to listen and amplify survivors’ voices. Instead of protecting men like Harvey Weinstein, Woody Allen and R Kelly, we’re demanding justice.
This victory still isn’t enough for the countless survivors who’ve been failed by the judicial system and society as a whole – there are still cases that get swept under the carpet, especially in cases where women of colour, queer people and trans people are the ones seeking justice.
The fight isn’t over…
As Deborah Tuerkheimer, a professor at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law says, ‘We have to look at the real importance of the dozens of accusers and how this drove the prosecution in all of the ways that are unlike the garden variety of sexual assault cases. If that’s what it takes to get a conviction, that’s halting progress at best.’
The road to ending gender-based violence and sexual violence in all its forms may be long, but the fall of Cosby does shine a small beam of hope on the future.
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