Bill Cosby, one of America's cultural icons, has been convicted of three counts of sexual assault and may go to jail.
It's still hard to believe those words are true — but not as hard as it has been for victims of sexual assault to be believed.
For decades, according to at least 60 women who have gone public, the renowned entertainer preyed upon women who looked up to him, who regarded him as a kind, even fatherly figure. In many cases, they say, he drugged them before assaulting them to gratify himself.
"I was confused and at a loss because I could not believe that anyone would believe me over Bill Cosby," said Margie Shapiro, who came forward in 2015 to say Cosby drugged her and raped her in 1975, when she was 19.
The formerly beloved star has denied the skein of allegations, accusing the women of being gold diggers or in pursuit of fame. That was the defense his lawyers mounted most recently against Andrea Constand, the former Temple University employee who said Cosby had assaulted her at his house in 2004. In the just-concluded retrial, they called her "a pathological liar" and said her case was "one of the biggest highway robberies of all time."
But the jurors, who also heard from five other women who said Cosby had done the same things to them, believed her, not him. Certainly the number of accusers argues strongly that Cosby was a monster.
The first time prosecutors brought Ms. Constand's case to trial, a jury couldn't reach a verdict and the judge declared a mistrial. Then came the uproar over Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. It led to an avalanche of stories by those who said they had been used sexually by a person who held some kind of power over them. It snowballed, encompassing cases of musicians, aid workers, actors, hotel maids, restaurant employees and diplomats. The hashtag #MeToo took off.
While not all accusers are motivated by justice, and due process is essential lest people's lives be ruined unjustly, the movement has thankfully made it clear that sexual abuse is very serious business.
Into this atmosphere came Cosby's retrial. Unlike the first trial, this one included the additional testimony from accusers other than Ms. Constand — an unusual feature in sexual assault cases, when testimony is often limited to a single incident or single accuser. Cosby's lawyers are certain to challenge the judge's decision to allow this testimony when they appeal.
It is by no means certain that Cosby's conviction won't be overturned on appeal, nor is it necessarily true the 80-year-old entertainer will serve time in jail. But for now, a jury of U.S. citizens has demonstrated that victims can make themselves heard, no matter how powerful their attackers. And they can be believed.
REPRINTED FROM THE JACKSONVILLE DAILY NEWS