- Bill Cosby’s release from prison tells survivors they’re less important, a trauma expert said.
- A conviction can represent justice to survivors of sexual assault, Dr. Shauna Springer told Insider.
- Survivors often experience trauma, and overturning a conviction can exacerbate it.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Bill Cosby’s sudden release from prison stunned survivors. One trauma expert says the court’s decision to cut his sentence short signals to women who come forward with sexual assault allegations that they’re not as important as the men they’re accusing.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on June 30 decided to toss Cosby’s sexual assault conviction on a technicality. In 2005, a district attorney agreed to avoid prosecuting Cosby based on testimony given in a civil case. Because of this, the court ruled that the decision to prosecute “violated Cosby’s due process rights,” the judges said.
Prior to the court’s decision, Cosby had been in the middle of a three- to 10-year prison sentence, serving for aggravated indecent assault after a 2004 conviction in the sexual assault of Andrea Constand.
Psychologist and trauma expert Dr. Shauna Springer told Insider the decision is shocking to survivors of sexual assault because a conviction represents some semblance of justice.
The decision to overturn his conviction sends a discouraging message to survivors: “That those with the money and power to retain expensive lawyers can often find technicalities that will allow them to evade justice,” Springer said.
Trauma can present itself in many forms, including changes in sleeping patterns, chronic hyper-vigilance, and bursts of irritability, she said. Symptoms like these might remain for years after an experience of sexual assault, even after a perpetrator has been convicted.
“Reporting a sexual assault requires a great deal of courage,” Springer said. “Many survivors are re-traumatized by the process that ensues in seeking justice — from collecting the evidence of assault to repeatedly sharing their story in a public forum. And there is no guarantee that they will receive justice.”
Women have come forward with stories of sexual assault and abuse against Cosby for decades. And it was only in 2018 that a court took those stories seriously. The Cosby conviction was groundbreaking because it was the first high-profile sexual assault conviction of a powerful man in the wake of the #MeToo movement.
Reversing that conviction causes further trauma, Springer said. Healing is as important to survivors as justice, she said, and tossing out a conviction can disrupt that process.
At the same time, the court’s decision might galvanize survivors to speak out even louder.
“This is more likely to happen if they connect to a community of support, if they have trusted people in their lives that believe them, and healers who understand innovative ways to help them heal,” Springer said.
Survivors of sexual assault who were either victimized or triggered by Cosby can seek out psychotherapy or other treatments to directly address trauma.
“Recovery from sexual assault is a particularly complicated healing journey,” Springer said. “Healing and forward movement are always possible with the right insights and support.”
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