Local advocates: Cosby release could discourage victims

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Following news of Bill Cosby’s release, victim advocates are encouraging victims of sexual assault to continue telling their stories. 

News broke on Wednesday that Bill Cosby, who was convicted on three counts of aggravated indecent assault in 2018, would be released from prison. This after Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court ruled that Cosby’s due process rights had been violated.

Some people took to social media touting the decision as a victory for Cosby while others expressed their disappointment.

“I think it’s always disappointing when what we believe is justice gets confounded in some way and clearly this was a removal based on a technicality,” said Tom Cottrell with the YWCA of Grand Rapids.

The YWCA works with victims of domestic and sexual assault every day. Cottrell says the court deciding to overturn Cosby’s conviction could discourage some victims from telling their stories. 

“There’s a whole host of reasons people don’t come forward. Some of it is what we’re seeing now: social media portraying them as fostering lies,” said Cottrell.

The state of Michigan has been in the national spotlight for several sexual abuse scandals in recent years. In 2018, former Michigan State University sports doctor Larry Nassar was convicted for sexually assaulting women under the guise of medical treatment. This past June, survivors came forward with stories about sexual assault by Dr. Robert Anderson at The University of Michigan. 

Victim advocates say while the stories can be difficult to recount for victims, they’re vital to putting assailants behind bars.

“The criminal justice system is slow moving, slow adapting and there are a lot of technicalities that we just have to learn how to navigate and endure,” said Cottrell. “I hope this is not negatively impacting a willingness to disclose or a willingness to attempt, through the criminal justice system, to hold assailants accountable for their actions.”

He says he is hopeful that people will continue to come forward despite news of Cosby’s release. 

“I think it’s important to recognize there’s a difference between being believed and having an assailant be prosecuted. There are many, many steps in between that,” said Cottrell. “It’s real critical to turn to the places where they are believed, where they are supported. That may not always be the criminal justice system. It may be family, friends, faith community, a place like the YW. There can be that affirmation in a lot of places.”

If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual assault and need resources or would like to report, contact the confidential victim hotline at 616.454.YWCA. More information can be found on their website

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