New Posts at Verdict for 10/15/2015

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Marci A. Hamilton
Oct 15, 2015

Why the Victims of Bill Cosby Are My Heroes

Dozens of women have now come forth in the public square to point a finger at Bill Cosby for drugging and raping them. Their stories are consistent, consistent, consistent, and but for the statutes of limitations (SOLs), he would be facing jail in a series of states.

The SOLs Are a Major Barrier to Justice, and Survivors Are Speaking Up Regardless

The truth is that the SOLs for child and adult rape in the relevant states so far are posing a formidable barrier to justice. It is heartening to watch feminist lawyer Gloria Allred go after Cosby hammer and tongs with the few cases that can be filed under some theory, even if it’s defamation. She is now demanding a second deposition in a California case involving a woman who says he raped her at the Playboy mansion when she was 15 years old. There likely would be more cases in California involving underage girls at the Playboy Mansion, but Gov. Jerry Brown in his infinite wisdom vetoed a bill reviving the civil SOLs at the behest of the Catholic bishops. (Once again the bishops succeed in blocking access to justice for all child rape victims, not just the victims of their priests.)

Of course, I am a proponent of eliminating the SOLs for child sex abuse, as I discuss here and here, and I am very grateful to these women for their forceful showing of how deficient the SOLs are for adult and child rape. The level of public understanding of the tragedy of short SOLs for rape has increased dramatically, and these survivors are doing a public service by speaking up and uniting in public.

Cosby’s Survivors Are Reminding Us “Nice Guys” Can Be Rapists

But there is another reason we should all be eternally grateful to them: Cosby is an icon, and like so many of the men who sexually abuse and assault women or children, he seems like such a great guy on the outside.

Let’s just put it right on the table: Bill Cosby has been a brilliant comedian. And was he prolific. He started as a standup comic who then added an animated comedy show, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, to his credits, which ran from 1972-85. The Cosby Show aired from 1984-92 and was a top-rated show its entire tenure. He also produced the spin-off A Different World, 1987-93, which was one of the top four shows its first four seasons. Reruns also have been successful. Now cable media faces the choice of permanently shelving his very successful shows due to the scandal or waiting to see if the “scandal dies down.”

Thank you to Cosby’s victims, because now big media has to debate what to do about a serial rapist in its libraries. It can calculate just how much money it thinks it can make with the discounted scandal value. Or it can choose a different path, such as not promoting shows starring a rapist. We saw what the media did with the very credible allegations against Woody Allen: cover it and then go back to portraying him as a genius and an icon. That was “only” one victim. How does the calculus change when it’s over 50 victims? Just curious.

And thank you because no one can avoid this story about this mega-star, which means decision makers like judges and lawmakers are learning that they cannot trust their instincts regarding who is a rapist. Rather, they must attend to facts, and the voices of those who were raped.

We owe these survivors an even greater debt of gratitude because the American public is being forced to hold two dissonant thoughts in mind at the same time: Bill Cosby is a brilliant comedian who has made me laugh many times and a serial rapist. That is not easy, but it is a critical lesson on the way to unmasking our hidden predators, because they are often the ones we love and trust. As former FBI child sex abuse expert Kenneth Lanning instructed, they are often the “nice” guys.

It is their “nice guy” quality that makes them hard to keep away from children and vulnerable women (like ones who are drugged). The victims live alone with their secret humiliation and shame, and in the Cosby cases, with genuine mystery over how far the rape went, until one or more point to the perpetrator. When they stand up en masse, as many of Cosby’s victims now have, it is irrational to fight their stories. Rather, we must accept that Cosby has two faces, and one is horrific.

The same is true for too many fathers, uncles, brothers, priests, bishops, ministers, rabbis, imams, elders, prophets, Boy Scout leaders, Big Brothers, teachers and coaches, among others. (Yes, women can be abusers, too, but the vast majority are in fact male.) In this society of image, branding, and relentless coverage of celebrity, we too often mistake the label for the person.

Thank you to Cosby’s brave survivors for reinforcing the need to look beyond the label, regardless of the brand, to see the truth.

Marci A. Hamilton is the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University, and the author of God vs. the Gavel: The Perils of Extreme Religious Liberty and Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect Its Children. She also runs two active websites covering her areas of expertise, the Religious Freedom Restoration Acts,, and statutes of limitations for child sex abuse, Professor Hamilton blogs at Hamilton and Griffin on Rights. Her email address is

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