AS FAR away as the Bill Cosby trial might have seemed, the guilty verdict delivered by a Pennsylvania jury on Thursday is a milestone for the global #MeToo movement. The verdict will only serve to help women everywhere speak up and speak out against a matter that should be of grave concern to all of us.
Cosby is not the first man to be accused of violating his power and perpetuating sexual assault, nor will he be the last. But, as is the case with Harvey Weinstein, things will never be the same now that the cat has been let out of the bag.
These developments can only serve to empower those who are today seeking to advance gender parity and dismantle the systems that have entrenched male patriarchy in all walks of life in this country. There is much work to be done when it comes to the plight of women in our society. Part of the victory on Thursday related to how the criminal justice system handles sexual assault.
Too often, hurdles are put in the way of women coming forward with their stories. They are often flippantly dismissed by police officers, their credibility questioned through the consideration of irrelevant factors and retraumatised by a system that still allows antiquated notions of gender to dictate who is believed and who is not.
Much of the work that needs to be done going forward relates to how police handle cases relating to women: be it sexual assault, domestic violence or simple instances of harassment. In this regard, the State must take urgent steps to introduce a sexual harassment policy for the workplace. It must do so not only in relation to government agencies and departments but also with a view to national implementation. At the very least, the law should stipulate that businesses must devise and implement a policy to allow complaints to be made and to be fairly and confidentially adjudicated on.
The Cosby case is also telling because it is a reminder of how, notwithstanding the passage of time, people can still be held accountable for wrongdoing. While the issue of statutory limitations is a fraught one given the need to serve the interests of all, it is better to have a balance that veers on the side of justice, especially for traumatic cases.
In this country we have had a range of instances in which high-level officials – in all walks of life – have been accused of wrongdoing. Additionally, ordinary citizens silently endure instances of exploitation that do not make the headlines.
One hopes the Cosby conviction will galvanise ongoing efforts by NGOs to advocate for reform. It should also send a strong message to men everywhere that this sort of conduct is not only wrong, but its criminal iterations will be prosecuted as well.