While dozens of women have leveled sexual assault allegations at comedian Bill Cosby, destroying his reputation as “America’s dad,” the question of whether he will be imprisoned will hang on the words of a single woman when his trial starts this week.
The outcome, taken together with the treatment of accuser Andrea Constand on the witness stand, may well affect whether women who have been sexually assaulted by powerful men seek prosecution, according to experts who study sex crimes.
“If he is acquitted, I think people will kind of shrink back, especially if the victim is treated really badly,” said Aviva Orenstein, a law professor at Indiana University, who has studied sex crimes.
But Jennifer Long, a former Pennsylvania prosecutor whose non-profit AEquitas advises prosecutors on sexual violence, said she is optimistic that the sight of Constand testifying against a major celebrity could inspire more women to come forward.
Constand, a former basketball player and coach at his alma mater Temple University, has accused Cosby of drugging and sexually assaulting her 13 years ago at his home in suburban Philadelphia.
Cosby, 79, has repeatedly denied all wrongdoing in response to the accusations covering a series of alleged sexual assaults dating back to the 1960s, most of which are too old to be the subject of criminal prosecution.
The former star of the 1980s television hit “The Cosby Show” does not plan to testify during the two-week trial in Norristown, Pennsylvania, leaving Constand as the linchpin of the prosecution’s case – and the main target for Cosby’s attorneys during what promises to be tough cross-examination.
Cosby’s lawyers have signaled they will grill Constand on why she waited nearly a year before reporting the alleged assault and why she remained in touch with Cosby for months after their encounter, even taking her mother to see one of his performances.
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