fb-pixel Skip to main content

Is the long arc of history bending toward justice when it comes to sexual assault?

It sure looked that way in a Pennsylvania courthouse Thursday, when Bill Cosby was convicted of drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand 14 years ago.

More than 50 women had come forward to accuse the actor and comedian of raping them over decades. They've told strikingly similar stories of the moralizing family man assaulting them after drugging and immobilizing them. Hardly anybody cared, until comedian Hannibal Buress called Cosby out in a 2014 video that went viral. By the time the world finally listened to the women, it was too late for most of Cosby's victims to seek justice.

Advertisement



Constand stood in for all of them. But when Cosby went to trial last spring on a charge of raping her, a jury could not decide whether America's Dad was guilty. Afterward, a juror trotted out a sickeningly familiar trope: Look what she was wearing, what did she expect?

That seems so long ago now. Between that hung jury and the retrial, #MeToo happened. The revelations that producer Harvey Weinstein and other powerful men had assaulted and harassed women for years were shocking — except to the legions of women who had tried tell us all along.

In Cosby's retrial, unlike in the first, five women were allowed to tell stories of drugging and assault that matched Constand's. And a judge allowed prosecutors to reveal that Cosby had previously admitted buying quaaludes to sedate women he wanted to have sex with.

Maybe that swayed jurors. It's hard to draw big conclusions from the choices of 12 people in a single courtroom. Still, it's also hard to avoid the sense that the world is changing.

Advertisement



But not for everybody.

The #MeToo movement exploded in the rarefied confines of Hollywood, politics, the media, and in large corporations, among white-collar workers. It exists because prominent women came forward — unimpeachable women, with fame, status, or fellow-accusers — to make allegations that could not be dismissed.

Its impact beyond that highly visible blast site has been less than seismic: Poor women, and those with blue-collar jobs, women of color, undocumented immigrants, victims who have no one to stand with them and say, "He did it to me too," still face impossible power imbalances.

The movement does not belong to lone accusers or to deeply imperfect ones.

It does not belong to the woman who sat in courtroom 815 at Suffolk Superior Court a few weeks ago, who was both. There, where Timothy Smith stood trial for kidnapping and rape, the world was as it ever was.

Prosecutors said that, in January 2017, the woman was drinking with Smith at his apartment, when they got into an argument and he knocked her unconscious, and sexually assaulted her. When she awoke, she tried to fight Smith off, they said, stabbing him with a piece of his broken glasses and a pair of grooming scissors. She escaped to the bathroom, where she climbed out a third-floor window and down a drain pipe, which came away from the building. She fell, fracturing her pelvis.

Smith claimed the sex had been consensual, and that he was the one who was assaulted. The victim had smoked crack with him before, he said, and she admitted she had used drugs earlier that day.

Advertisement



Who would believe such a woman? Not the jury — or at least not when it came to the rape. The odd thing is, they appeared to find her credible otherwise, finding Smith guilty of kidnapping. While they clearly concluded Smith was capable of beating her and holding her against her will, they seem to have taken his word that the sex was consensual — despite the fact that she had risked her life to escape him.

She's not the kind of victim we picture when we think of #MeToo. But she is the kind the movement leaves behind. When does the revolution come for women like her?

A lot had to change for Bill Cosby to fall. But the world hasn't changed nearly enough.


Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at yvonne.abraham@globe.com and on Twitter @GlobeAbraham