What a difference one year and six months and a couple of strong voices can make. Before Hollywood spoke out against the alleged sexual assaults and harassment of Harvey Weinstein and the #MeToo movement, a jury deciding the Cosby case was hung. In a retrial in April 2018, during sexual assault awareness month, a jury found Bill Cosby guilty. This may be a sign that the cultural change that is happening as a result of the #MeToo movement is making it easier for victims of sexual assault to get justice.
Although the signs of change are promising, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done. Increased awareness about the effects of sexual assault is changing society’s views of assault victims and also starting to change how the legal system handles assault cases. For many survivors, it can take years to process and deal with the trauma of sexual assault, meanwhile, the clock on the survivors’ time to file a lawsuit is ticking away and once it is expired, they have no legal recourse. Some states have begun to deal with this by implementing longer statute of limitations for sexual assault cases. While many states still have statutes of limitations that are too short, hopefully they will follow in suit behind states who have recently changed the statute of limitations for assault cases. Another aspect that is slowly changing is how sexual assault cases are investigated. One of the first encounters survivors have when they come forward are police interviews. Unfortunately, many officers are not trained on how to interview assault survivors and as a result do not take into account the effects of the trauma. However, some areas are beginning to provide special training to their officers on how to properly investigate and question assault victims. One area that seems to have not changed yet is the use of victim shaming as a defense tactic. Assault trials often turn into debates about the victim’s character. Cosby’s defense team deployed this as their defense tactic and it ultimately backfired when the jury came back with a guilty verdict. As the #MeToo movement continues and sheds light on the effects of the trauma caused to these survivors hopefully the legal system will continue to follow in the footsteps of the cultural changes we are seeing.
There is hope. One and a half years before #MeToo Cosby got by with a hung jury. A year and a half later, the #MeToo movement prevailed and Cosby was found guilty. The #MeToo movement seems to be changing the culture of sexual assault and how it is perceived, but there is still a lot of work that needs to be done, including how our legal system deals with sexual assault cases both in criminal and civil courts.