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How will Bill Cosby's release impact the #MeToo Movement?

Tarana Burke
Posted at 7:50 PM, Jul 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-06 19:50:47-04

For Alison McCarthy, cross-stitching is therapeutic.

When she’s cross-stitching, McCarthy says her brain is free from all negative thoughts. Unfortunately, those thoughts are there often due to traumatic experiences from her past.

“I think I experienced my first assault – I think I was 12 – but I’ve had a few since then," McCarthy said.

Her professional life is dedicated to victim assistance and violence prevention. She also works in the legal system to help survivors, which she says influenced her reaction when she found out about the release of Bill Cosby from prison. Cosby was convicted on three felony counts of aggravated indecent assault in 2018.

“I’m fairly jaded, so, unfortunately, my reaction is not surprised," McCarthy said. "Disappointed and angry and sad but not surprised.”

There was a mix of reactions among survivors. Michelle Lachner says the news nearly sent her into a panic attack.

“It felt like an explosion hit, and I was thrown back," Lachner said. "I was floored. And my heart broke for the woman who was brave enough to come forward, which kind of what prompted me and my whole journey – ya know, some brave women coming forward.”

Michelle says she was silent for forty years and finally started her journey to recovery five years ago because of the #MeToo movement.

"I was raped when I was 16. And then I went in the military after high school, and within a four-year period, I was sexually assaulted four different times - the last one being I was stalked for a year," Lachner said.

Legal experts say Cosby’s release had nothing to do with guilt or facts of the assault. He was set free due to a technicality – the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found his due process rights were violated when he was charged for an assault after prosecutors previously told him they wouldn’t bring criminal charges against him.

Brie Franklin is the executive director of the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

“It really highlights yet again how the system is not really set up for victims and accountability,” Franklin said.

Franklin says the conviction marked a major milestone in the #MeToo movement. Now that it’s been overturned, she says survivors may feel less inclined to come forward.

“To have that dismissed on a technicality just really is frustrating and makes victims feel like ‘I can do everything right, the process can find this person guilty, and yet they’re still not held accountable,'" Franklin said. "'They’re still let go and set free.’”

According to The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, survivors understand the legal process for sexual assault cases is lengthy. They’ll only put themselves through that process if they believe that there is a reasonable chance of getting justice.

The nonprofit says 310 out of every thousand sexual assaults are reported to police – that means more than two out of three go unreported. And of those that are reported, only 11 percent end in a felony conviction.

“It would be hard to report now knowing how people are treated in the legal system," McCarthy said. "It’s such a painful process for so many people, and it’s hard to feel like it would be less painful than the original assault.”

However, Lachner says she’s hopeful change will happen if survivors continue to speak out.

“When the #MeToo movement came out, I realized that I wasn’t alone,” Lachner said.

Lachner says she feels even more empowered after the release of Cosby to speak her truth.

“What I thought was the weakest part of me, I actually found to be the source of my power and strength -- which is my voice," Lachner said. "And now, if I’m not being heard, I almost feel a rage. It’s like ‘hear me!’”

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault, know that you are not alone. Help is available anytime. Call the national sexual assault hotline at 1-800-656-4673