Bill Cosby's conviction a milestone for justice; if not the #MeToo movement | Editorial

Bill Cosby
Bill Cosby accuser Andrea Constand smiles as she listens during a news conference after Cosby was found guilty in his sexual assault retrial.

Bill Cosby is no more a stand-in for all men than Andrea Constand is representative of all women, except for the moment Thursday when a  jury delivered a guilty verdict against Cosby on three counts of indecent assault.

At that moment, scores of women likely felt at least a twinge of vindication for their own experience of confronting an abuse of power at the hands of men. Such systemic abuse isn’t always  sexual – but the kind of indecent assault Cosby was found guilty of is the extreme end of the mismatched power dynamic between men and women.

Consider that it took Andrea Constand 14 years of indignity to find justice, from her 2004 attack to Thursday’s verdict.

In 2005, then-Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor declined to prosecute Cosby following Constand’s allegations, prompting her to bring a civil action against Cosby in federal court. That led to a confidential settlement agreement, aired in a trial where his defense attorneys painted Constand, who received $3.4 million, as a gold digger.

Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Ferman reopened the Cosby investigation in 2015. At the time, Castor was running for D.A. against Ferman’s first deputy, Kevin Steele. The case became part of a nasty race. Constand sued Castor for defamation. Castor, who lost the election, countersued Constand.

Constand endured two trials, circuslike media exposure, social vilification, and public humiliation. Her experience with Cosby at his home was unique, but her treatment afterward is a writ-large version of how many women in her situation are vilified by the courts,  law enforcement, and society.

Many will claim this is the first criminal conviction related to the #MeToo protests. But Constand’s experience predates the movement, and speaks to a more troubling truth.

While the #MeToo movement might have opened the floodgates of sordid stories and reveals how ubiquitous the experience of such abuses of power are, the outcome of  Cosby’s trial underscores the sad truth that the voice of a single woman too often isn’t enough.

 Cosby’s first trial in 2017 ended with a deadlocked jury and was declared a mistrial. What was different this time? In the first trial, testimony from only one other  accuser was allowed. This time, the courts allowed five other women – out of a total of 60 accusers — to testify.

Sixty accusers. That can be taken as evidence that when you’re a woman, too many times your single voice doesn’t have the power against a serial assaulter, whether his name is Cosby, Weinstein, or one less familiar.

Too many times one woman doesn’t have credibility to take on the institutionalized abuses of power that many men take as their due.

The Cosby verdict may herald a new day, a true turning point that says abusive behavior and sexual entitlement will no longer be tolerated.

But the real turning point would be the recognition that #MeToo is not as effective as #WeToo — that there is safety in numbers, which women navigating the world have always known.