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Bill Cosby’s Release Doesn’t Mean He's Innocent — Why We Should Still Believe His Victims

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Bill Cosby

“He’ll never be innocent,” says Janice Baker-Kinney, one of 60 women who has accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault during his decade-spanning career in comedy.

Cosby walked free from prison on Wednesday, June 30 after a court overturned his 2018 sexual assault conviction on a legal technicality.

The disgraced comedian had served two years of a three-to-10 year sentence after he was found guilty of drugging and molesting Andrea Constand in 2004.

During the trial, Baker-Kinney testified that Cosby had done the same to her in 1982.

Cosby’s supporters might be celebrating his release as a miscarriage of justice that has been rectified, but let’s not forget who and what people doing so are aligning themselves with when siding with an admitted rapist over his survivors.

Cosby’s overturned conviction does not mean the court found him innocent.

Cosby walked free not because he didn’t commit the crimes he was convicted of or because the court decided he isn't guilty of the other allegations against him, but because of legal technicalities related to a nonprosecution deal he made in 2005.

At the time, Cosby agreed to waive his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and testify in the civil case brought against him by Constand in exchange for the prosecutor's agreement that he would not later face criminal charges.

Despite that deal, a second prosecutor decided to pursue a criminal case against Cosby, and he was found guilty by a jury in 2018.

But the procedural issue that freed Cosby is no reflection on the facts of his crimes.

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For the women who testified against Cosby, detailing dozens of remarkable consistent attacks involving drugs and sexual assault, his release will likely be a slap in the face of their trauma but it is in no way an indication of his innocence.

Cosby’s alleged victims still deserve to be heard and believed.

His 2018 conviction was not only justice for Constand but for the 60 other women who could not press charges against the entertainer due to expired statutes of limitations or because of prosecutors who were unwilling to take their case.

On the day of his conviction, some of these women stood on the steps of the courthouse chanting “guilty, guilty, guilty,” partially vindicated by the verdict.

Yesterday, as Cosby was exiting prison, his fellow inmates reportedly chanted, “You're free, you're free,” while his victims were painfully reminded that their bravery in coming forward is not enough in a society hellbent on forgiving abusers.

This is a man who terrorized women for decades. His alleged victims tell stories of waking up in pain, being so incapacitated during the assaults that they couldn’t move.

“Some of them escaped by crawling out of the door and crawling into the street and somehow getting home, barely conscious,” one alleged survivor claimed.

Cosby’s crimes cannot be forgotten even if he will never serve his full sentence and we owe it to his victims to remember that.

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What Cosby’s release means for all sexual assault victims.

But Cosby’s conviction wasn’t just a glimmer of justice for those who accused him of assault.

As one of the earliest and most significant guilty verdicts in the #MeToo Movement, Cosby’s conviction was a moment of hope for all victims of sexual violence that perhaps justice was possible.

The majority of sexual assaults are not reported and retribution is so rare so moments where rapists are convicted, especially when they’re as powerful as Cosby, provides a level of solace in the hope that even if the system is not fair for all, it can be fair for some.

There was a sense of justice by proxy and a clear message that sexual assault is wrong and has consequences.

Cosby’s release strips women of that catharsis before it had even settled into place. It sends a clear message that you can do all the things you’re supposed to when coming forward with your assault and still not get the justice you deserve.

All of a sudden it seems ridiculous to have believed that justice existed in the first place as it so rarely does in sexual assault cases.

That said, we must still believe Cosby’s victims, perhaps more than ever, not only for them but for all other women who never see their rapists held accountable.

If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual assault, you are not alone. The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline is a free and confidential resource that is available 24/7.

Visit RAINN.org or call 1.800.656.HOPE (4673) to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

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Alice Kelly is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Catch her covering all things social justice, news, and entertainment. Keep up with her Twitter for more.