NewsWorldOPINION | Bill Cosby's release sends a clear...

OPINION | Bill Cosby’s release sends a clear and alarming message


Editor’s note: Kara Alaimo, Associate Professor of Public Relations at Hofstra University, is the author of “Pitch, Tweet or Engage on the Street: How to Practice Global Public Relations and Strategic Communication”. He was a spokesman for international affairs at the Treasury Department during the Obama administration. Follow her on Twitter @karaalaimo. The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author. See more opinion on CNN.

(CNN) – Bill Cosby, who has been indicted by 60 women, was released from prison Wednesday after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned his conviction for sexual assault. The fact that I am a free man today sends a deeply disturbing message to women who survive sexual assault: that if they report it they will face almost insurmountable obstacles in their quest for justice.

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

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

Of course, Cosby is an octogenarian who played a father on television in the 80s and early 90s. Modern celebrities, on the other hand, live on the internet and in what we would 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 accused of committing the sexual assault for which he was convicted. Since then, we have seen many women who have shared their stories of sexual harassment, assault and violence as part of the #MeToo movement.

Therefore, some may perceive that the norms have changed and that men know that they can no longer get away with this type of behavior because women are talking.

But that’s not true.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned Bill Cosby’s conviction and sentence, according to spokeswoman Stacey Witalec for the Pennsylvania Courts. The actor has already been released from prison.

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

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

They are called dating apps.

In 2019, Columbia Journalism Investigations (CJI) conducted a survey – which it warned was unscientific – of 1,200 women in the United States who said they had used dating apps. More than a third of the women said they had been sexually assaulted by someone they met through one of these apps. This figure is staggering. If it is anything close to reality, sexual violence is becoming astonishingly common.

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

The Match Group matches users to sex offender databases, but does not match Tinder, PlentyofFish or OkCupid, according to the CJI report, published jointly with ProPublica and Buzzfeed. (“A Match Group spokeswoman contends that background checks do nothing more than create what she calls ‘a false sense of security’ among users,” because government databases may be incomplete or inaccurate, according to the report. Users can, of course, also use false identities).

Bill Cosby’s lawyer applauds Supreme Court decision 2:53

However, in March, Tinder announced that it would launch a background check feature in the app this year, according to a report from, which would allow users to view information from the public records of their potential appointments using their name or mobile number.

Obviously, dating apps should be required by law to check the background of their users. But this would not solve the problem, because there is evidence that the ease with which apps connect offenders with victims appears to be encouraging more people to commit sex crimes for the first time.

The Serious Crime Analysis Section of the UK’s National Crime Agency warned in a 2016 report that online dating sites appear to be creating ‘a new breed of sex offender’, who is’ less likely to have convictions but exploits the ease of access and armchair approach of dating websites. ‘ According to the report, while 84% of people who rape strangers have prior convictions, only 49% of those who commit sex crimes through online dating sites have prior convictions.

Aside from dating apps, another problem, according to Nancy Jo’s recently published book Sales Nothing Personal: My Secret Life in the Dating App Inferno, is that the proliferation of online pornography, often depicting violence against women, It has made sex in real life more violent. A 2010 study of pornographic videos – cited in a New York Times article on how online porn is shaping young people’s views on sex – found that 88% show assault.

Bill Cosby will go free 0:58

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 been scared during sex as a result of something done to them. Choking, for example, has become alarmingly common.

It is clear that the culture change we need has not started as part of the #MeToo movement. In fact, many women and parents of young girls may not even be aware of how the Internet is facilitating sex crimes.

As part of the solution, it is clear that children need to be educated on why porn is different from sex in real life (although, like Peggy Orenstein noted in a comment earlier this month, when schools try to do this, parents freak out.)

Cosby’s release also makes it clear that victims need much more support than they are currently receiving, including help documenting evidence and building strong legal cases. They also need help rebuilding their lives after being victims, from mental health services to help finding new jobs after leaving abusive employers. On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said President Joe Biden “will continue” to fight gender-based violence. You should back up that claim by providing funding for more programs that provide this kind of support to victims.

Let’s be clear: the case of Bill Cosby cannot be dismissed as an anachronism. In fact, since the period in which he was accused of assaulting women, the Internet appears to have deepened the dangers of sexual assault for women. In this sense, it is bitterly fitting that an actor repeatedly accused of sexual assault continues to be called by some “the father of America.” Sexual violence has become a widespread American problem.



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