Bill Cosby’s overturned conviction impacting survivors of sexual assault

Reporter: Anika Henanger Writer: Jack Lowenstein
Published: Updated:
Credit: WINK News.

A high-profile sexual assault conviction was thrown out, and it’s sending mixed messages to survivors.

Comedian Bill Cosby is a free man after serving nearly three years for drugging and violating a woman. His trial marked the first for a celebrity during the #MeToo movement.

Wednesday, the world watched Cosby return home.

Survivors of sexual violence listened closely to what he said.

“I’m not guilty,” Cosby said during a FaceTime.

When Cosby said those three words, survivor Eileen Wesley heard a lot more.

“It’s almost like the biggest sinking feeling you could ever feel,” said Wesley, who is the executive director of Project Help in East Naples.

Wesley turned her own sinking feeling — her pain — into passion.

“And my event, there was no believability back then,” Wesley explained. “It was the movement was still in the, ‘Are you sure? You know he has a good reputation. He’s a nice guy.’”

Since Wesley’s experience and since Cosby was convicted and now overturned, she said people still doubt when women come forward.

So the anxiety remains.

“People are going to look at it a little differently, like, ‘Do I go to court? Do I take this to law enforcement,’” Wesley said. “And that’s going to make the healing journey much harder because they’re not facing it, or they’re not asking for the justice they want.”

Cosby’s accusers are asking those questions.

“When I say evil, it brings tears because he did such awful things,” accuser Helen Hayes said publicly.

“What about our constitutional rights to breathe free and not be in danger now that our rapist is free?” accuser Victoria Valentino said publicly.

The world watched Bill Cosby go home with people by his side.

For victims of sexual violence, there are also people who are ready to take their side.

“Even though you’re hearing this horrible, horrific news that a case this large has been thrown out, there are people out there that can still help you,” Wesley said. “And if you want to go through the judicial system, we will stand by your side.”

Project Help says it knows victims of sexual violence are not the only ones who might be struggling with Bill Cosby’s release.

Resources with project help include a free hotline and access to counselors.

MORE: Project Help in East Naples – Get Involved

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