Cosby ruling could keep sex assault survivors from coming forward, advocates fear

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Organizations that work with survivors of sexual assault say the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision to overturn Bill Cosby's 2018 conviction will have an impact on women coming forward.

"We just can't underestimate the impact that a situation like this has on survivors," said Carrie Ward, the executive director of the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault. "What we know from our rape crisis centers is that people will be triggered by this."

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The former "Cosby Show" star was the first celebrity tried and convicted in the Me Too era. He was released Wednesday after serving nearly 3 years of a 10-year sentence for drugging and violating Temple University sports administrator Andrea Constand in 2004.

Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices reversed that decision because of a verbal agreement his attorneys made with a former prosecutor that Cosby would not be criminally charged if he agreed to testify in a 2005 civil lawsuit brought by Constand.

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"I think what is important to note in the Cosby ruling is that this wasn't about the testimony of any of those survivors," said Debbie Perry, the director of Advocacy & Crisis Intervention Services at YWCA Metropolitan Chicago. "A jury of 12 people believed what they had to say."

ABC7 Legal Analyst Gil Soffer said the decision doesn't clear Cosby's name.

"The jury found him guilty. And it's been reversed not on the merits, not because there was a finding that he didn't do it, but because the court found that the state promised not to prosecute him for the misconduct," he said.

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Perry said there have been great strides in handling sexual assault cases and she hopes victims will not be discouraged by the outcome of the Cosby case.

"I think that it is important to know that survivors when they do come forward law enforcement is being training on how to handle sexual assault cases differently than they did even 10 years ago," she said.
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