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Months after Penn refused to revoke Bill Cosby's honarary degree, a Penn senior fellow weighs in on the Cosby trial.

Credit: Courtesy of Creative Commons

From beloved television father to alleged serial rapist, Bill Cosby has changed entirely in the eyes of the American people. More than 50 women have accused the comedian of drugging and sexually assaulting them, and one Penn-affiliated law professor saw the importance of the case in "transforming rape culture." 

“Until recently, powerful men protected powerful men,” professor Marci Hamilton, a senior fellow of the Penn Program for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society said.  Now, “powerful men can be brought down.”

Part of Cosby's power came from his influence as a moral figure, cemented by his dozens of honorary degrees from prestigious institutions. Penn has not acceded to public pressure to rescind Cosby's honorary Doctorate of Laws degree, despite neighboring Drexel University's recent decision to do so. 

While the statute of limitations has passed for most of these cases, Andrea Constand, who was allegedly assaulted in 2004, has brought her criminal case forward in Elkins Park, Pa.

Cosby will likely be convicted of at least one count, Hamilton said, and his "public image has been tarnished beyond repair." The Cosby Show, the classic sitcom that featured Cosby as the lovable Cliff Huxtable, has been pulled from television reruns, and various theaters have canceled the comedian’s appearances.

On Dec. 12, 2015, Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele charged Cosby with aggravated indecent assault, a second-degree felony. His preliminary hearing was recently pushed back to February 2016, to allow the defense to better prepare, and the evidence hearing was rescheduled to Feb. 2.

Andrea Constand, a former Temple University employee, met Cosby while she worked as director of operations of Temple’s basketball team, which Cosby supported as a Temple alumnus and member of the Board of Trustees. Just as with the other women, Cosby claimed to want to discuss her career and be a mentor to Constand. He invited Constand to have dinner at his home, where he attempted to inappropriately touch her, at which point she refused and left his home, according to a Huffington Post review of court documents. 

Yet Constand returned to Cosby’s house again, where he attempted to inappropriately touch her once more. Cosby invited Constand a third time to dinner at his home in 2004, at which point he allegedly offered her three pills he claimed were herbal. Constand alleges feeling incapacitated and unable to protest, as Cosby proceeded to sexually assault her. 

As the Montgomery County DA at the time, Bruce Castor, declined to pursue criminal charges in 2005, Constand filed a civil suit, with 13 unnamed women pressing similar charges. In 2006, Constand and Cosby settled out of court and kept the settlement details secret. The Associated Press eventually acquired the court documents from this 2005 lawsuit in July 2015. In the documents, Cosby admitted to giving Quaaludes, a sedative and hypnotic medication, to women with whom he wanted to have sex.

Prosecutors in the current case claimed that the newly released Cosby deposition from these court documents helped them file charges just before the twelve-year deadline of the statute of limitations in Constand’s case.

So why did the other women remain silent over the years? Hamilton cited the “transformation of rape culture” that permitted the women who remained silent in previous years to come forward with their stories in recent years. Constand’s case represents a chance for the more than 50 women to finally have a form of justice.

Monique Pressley, Cosby’s attorney, said in a statement, “Make no mistake, we intend to mount a vigorous defense against this unjustified charge and we expect that Mr. Cosby will be exonerated by a court of law."

The trial in Elkins Park brings the first criminal charges against Cosby, as most other accusers have already passed their statute of limitations. The case is set to resume in February 2016.  

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