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The Cosby Case: Blaming the Victims?

Our rules of justice are designed to protect all of us from harm - should we choose to enforce them. And one basic rule of justice is that victims of crime or civil wrongdoing must not be victimized again in the prosecution of their claims against a wrongdoer.

Let's look now at what has happened to women caught in the headlines of actor and comedian Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults. The Washington Post assigned four reporters to investigate newly-surfaced sexual assault allegations against Cosby. The Post identified sixteen women who publicly state that Cosby sexually assaulted them, with 12 saying that he drugged them first. Cosby's lawyers have branded these and prior allegations as "ridiculous," "illogical," "utterly preposterous," "plainly bizarre," "absolutely false," "discredited," "allegations that won't be dignified," "unsubstantiated," "fantastical stories" and "utter nonsense." And journalists, according to Cosby's lawyers, are engaging in "media vilification" - even asking questions is a sign of "low integrity."

Most victims of sexual assaults stay silent.  Only 16% of rapes are reported to law enforcement. When sexual assault victims come forward, they face the branding so epitomized in the Cosby case. Let's also remember that Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky's child victims faced denial, skepticism, and cover-up. Bill Cosby is not legally charged with any crime. Even if charged, the constitutional presumption of innocence applies to him unless he's proven guilty in a court of law. Yet given the similarity of allegations and breadth of reported victims, aren't these women entitled at the very least to presumptions of good faith?

As an attorney prosecuting civil wrongs for victims, I often see the injustice they face, and the campaign against Cosby's alleged victims has a familiar ring. The rich and powerful can retain hot-shot lawyers - and some of them are well-versed in accusing the accuser.

Not all accusations in sexual assault cases are true, though neither are all false, "ridiculous," "illogical," "preposterous," or "fantastical." Fair-minded people might well find coordinated attacks against reporting victims reprehensible.  These women deserve better.

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