Bill Cosby's release sends clear message for an alarming new era

Article Image

Victoria Valentino, one of the women who accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault, says that the decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to vacate Cosby's conviction was a "gut punch" and came out of the blue.

Posted: Jul 1, 2021 11:31 AM
Updated: Jul 1, 2021 11:31 AM

Bill Cosby, who has been accused of misconduct by 60 women, was released from prison Wednesday after Pennsylvania's Supreme Court overturned his sexual assault conviction. That he is a free man today sends a profoundly disturbing message to women who survive sexual assault: that if they come forward they will confront all but insurmountable hurdles as they pursue justice.

In 2018, Cosby was convicted by a jury of drugging and sexually assaulting a woman in 2004, but the court ruled that a deal he struck with a prosecutor to avoid prosecution in exchange for a deposition in a civil case had been improperly used against him, and that he should not have been charged in the criminal case.

Recall that Cosby has been accused of misconduct by 60 different women. "I have always maintained my innocence," he tweeted on Wednesday.

Of course, Cosby is an octogenarian who played a TV dad back in the 1980's and early 1990's. Modern celebrities, on the other hand, live on the Internet and in what we may like to believe are more enlightened times. In fact it might be tempting to think that things have changed since 16 years ago, when Cosby was alleged to have committed the sexual assault for which he was convicted. Since then, we've seen lots of women come forward to share their stories of sexual harassment, assault and violence as part of the #MeToo movement.

Some may therefore perceive that norms have changed and men know that they can't get away with this kind of behavior anymore because women are speaking out.

But that is untrue.

If anything, since Cosby's time, the world has become less safe for women -- thanks to the very place the #MeToo movement originated. While researching a book about women and the Internet, I have discovered that sexual violence against women is regularly enabled online in new and ever more dangerous ways.

Cosby is alleged to have met his victims in person. Today, there are many tools that match sexual offenders with women, making it even easier for perpetrators to find victims.

They're called dating apps.

In 2019, Columbia Journalism Investigations conducted a survey -- which it warned wasn't scientific -- of 1,200 women in America who said they had used dating apps. More than a third of the women said they were sexually assaulted by someone they met through one of these apps. This figure is staggering. If it's anything close to accurate, sexual violence is becoming astonishingly commonplace.

In fact, a spokesperson for The Match Group, a Dallas-based company that owns dozens of dating companies, told the investigative reporters that "there are definitely registered sex offenders on our free products."

The Match Group checks Match.com users against sex offender databases, but doesn't do so on Tinder, PlentyofFish or OkCupid, according to the CJI report, which was co-published with ProPublica and Buzzfeed. ( "A Match Group spokesperson contends that background checks do little more than create what she calls 'a false sense of security' among users," because government databases may be incomplete or inaccurate, the report said. Users can also, of course, use fake identities).

However, in March, Tinder announced that it would roll out an in-app background check feature at a later date this year, according to a report on BBC.com, that would allow users to view public records information of prospective dates using their name or mobile number.

Obviously, dating apps should be required by law to conduct background checks on their users. But this wouldn't come close to solving the problem, because there is evidence that the ease with which apps match perpetrators with victims appears to be encouraging more people to perpetrate sexual crimes for the first time.

The UK National Crime Agency's Serious Crime Analysis Section warned in a 2016 report that online dating sites appear to be creating "a new kind of sexual offender," who is "less likely to have criminal convictions, but instead exploit[s] the ease of access and arm-chair approach to dating websites." According to the report, while 84% of people who rape strangers have prior convictions, just 49% of those who commit sexual crimes through online dating sites have previous convictions.

Aside from dating apps, another problem, according to Nancy Jo Sales' just-published book Nothing Personal: My Secret Life in the Dating App Inferno, is that the proliferation of online porn, which often depicts violence against women, has made real-life sex more violent. A 2010 study of porn videos--cited in a New York Times article about how online porn is shaping young people's views about sex--found that 88% depict aggression.

Now, some men are copying these activities when they have sex with women in real life. A 2019 study found that more than 23% of women said they had become scared during sex as a result of something done to them. Choking, for instance, has become alarmingly common.

Clearly, the culture change we need hasn't begun to happen as part of the #MeToo movement. Indeed, a lot of women and parents of young girls may not even be aware of how dramatically the Internet is facilitating sexual crimes.

As one part of the solution, it's clear that kids need to be educated about why porn is different from sex in real life (though, as Peggy Orenstein pointed out in a commentary earlier this month, when schools attempt to do this, parents freak out.)

The Cosby outcome also makes clear that victims need far more support than they're currently getting, including help documenting evidence and building strong legal cases. They also need help rebuilding their lives after they become victimized -- from mental health services to assistance finding new jobs after leaving abusive employers. On Wednesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said President Joe Biden "will continue to" fight violence against women. He should back that up by providing funding for more programs to provide this kind of support to victims.

Let's be clear: Bill Cosby can't be dismissed as an anachronism. In fact, since the period during which he was alleged to have assaulted women, the Internet appears to have only deepened the dangers of sexual assault for women. In this sense, it's bitterly fitting that an actor accused over and over again of sexual assault is still called by some "America's dad." Sexual violence has become a pervasive American problem.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 482902

Reported Deaths: 9425
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison33063488
Hinds31021589
DeSoto30610358
Jackson23687348
Rankin21340370
Lee14909220
Madison14166271
Jones13404227
Forrest13160240
Lauderdale11601305
Lowndes10443176
Lamar10214130
Pearl River9098221
Lafayette8241137
Hancock7514112
Washington7102150
Oktibbeha6964124
Monroe6514164
Neshoba6475201
Warren6464164
Pontotoc630393
Panola6250126
Marshall6126123
Bolivar6115144
Union574186
Pike5613136
Alcorn537290
Lincoln5303131
George471472
Scott459196
Leflore4476140
Prentiss446779
Tippah446480
Itawamba4444100
Adams4416116
Tate4394101
Simpson4335112
Wayne433066
Copiah431787
Yazoo423386
Covington415792
Sunflower4148104
Marion4099104
Leake397586
Coahoma3957100
Newton370875
Grenada3556104
Stone350860
Tishomingo336289
Attala325387
Jasper314162
Winston304691
Clay296473
Chickasaw287065
Clarke282190
Calhoun266141
Holmes262187
Smith250649
Yalobusha221047
Tallahatchie220450
Walthall211058
Greene209045
Lawrence206833
Perry199953
Amite198452
Webster196542
Noxubee178939
Montgomery172454
Jefferson Davis168342
Carroll162137
Tunica153334
Benton142535
Kemper138640
Choctaw127026
Claiborne126834
Humphreys126637
Franklin116728
Quitman103926
Wilkinson101936
Jefferson91333
Sharkey63020
Issaquena1926
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 784484

Reported Deaths: 13921
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1111691760
Mobile707171225
Madison49549625
Baldwin36108489
Shelby36062314
Tuscaloosa33661547
Montgomery33066676
Lee22407219
Calhoun21041405
Morgan19734334
Etowah19001459
Marshall17619274
Houston16697382
St. Clair15361303
Cullman14506257
Limestone14505187
Elmore14387260
Lauderdale13436280
Talladega12855234
DeKalb12140236
Walker10524329
Blount9649156
Autauga9642137
Jackson9325156
Coffee8793175
Dale8529172
Colbert8482182
Tallapoosa6616177
Escambia6553120
Covington6420165
Chilton6342143
Russell602455
Franklin5758101
Chambers5370133
Marion4769117
Dallas4676187
Pike460096
Clarke459878
Geneva4371116
Winston422994
Lawrence4107108
Bibb407380
Barbour343270
Marengo325683
Monroe317152
Butler316490
Randolph304456
Pickens301873
Henry300357
Hale291584
Cherokee288353
Fayette277973
Washington245148
Crenshaw237069
Cleburne231150
Clay226765
Macon218658
Lamar193342
Conecuh181346
Lowndes170758
Coosa168033
Wilcox159736
Bullock148842
Perry136336
Sumter124336
Greene120642
Choctaw73326
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Clear
56° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 56°
Columbus
Clear
54° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 52°
Feels Like: 54°
Oxford
Clear
54° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 51°
Feels Like: 54°
Starkville
Clear
52° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 52°
While some cool mornings are again in store for the weekend, afternoons start to warm up a bit, so plan on dressing in layers if you're heading to the MSU or Bama games, because you'll need to utilize them in different ways.
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather