The National Sexual Violence Resource Center is on-site as the Bill Cosby trial progresses to provide insight and expertise in response to key statements made during the courtroom proceedings.
During cross examination of the victims who have taken the stand, defense attorneys Tom Mesereau and Kathleen Bliss noted the differences in details between police reports and victims’ accounts of their experiences.
What you should know: Disclosure is a process.
“When sexual assault reports are made, delayed and partial reports are normal, and should be expected,” NSVRC Communications Director Laura Palumbo said. “This is especially common in cases when the victim knows the perpetrator. When the assailant is a person in a position of power or trust, reporting is even more unlikely.
“In the immediate aftermath of a sexual assault, it is very common for victims to try to resume their normal lives as if it didn’t happen – they go to work, attend school, and keep appointments. Many victims experience intense disbelief, particularly when the offender is someone they know and trust.”
What you should know: Taking the step to disclose requires acknowledging the assault and makes coping with it a central priority.
Trauma impacts how those who experience sexual assault and violence respond, process and recall memories, and how victims integrate the experience into their lives. Strong feelings of guilt, shame, self-blame, and denial are common. Disclosure is impacted by difficult feelings as well as the intense range of emotions victims experience in the immediate and long-term aftermath of an assault.
“Many survivors struggle to self-identify as victims of rape,” Palumbo said. “This doesn’t change the fact that they may have been the victim of sexual abuse. In a society that holds victims responsible for sexual assault, it is normal for survivors to find it difficult to acknowledge that they have been raped and cope with the strong feelings of self-blame.”
What you should know: Sexual contact without consent is sexual assault.
We heard testimony from a victim who spent many years blaming herself for the sexual abuse she experienced. Even when it takes a victim years to come forward or when they struggle to identify as a victim, these reactions are not qualifications for an experience to be categorized as rape – sexual contact without consent is sexual assault.
“Many people who sexually offend use drugs and alcohol strategically to make victims more vulnerable,” Palumbo said. “A person who is intoxicated and/or substantially impaired cannot give consent.”
What you should know: Victims of sexual assault often face consequences coming forward.
In addition to initial denial, there are many reasons why someone might not disclose what was done to them: fear of not being believed, worries about retaliation or job loss, concern that their social circle and supports will be disrupted, fears of privacy invasions and being made the subject of gossip and slander, and even distrust of law enforcement.
“Unfortunately, these fears are well founded in many instances, and examples of these insensitive and intrusive responses are readily available in communities and media across the country,” Palumbo said.
The defense team has questioned victims’ relationship with private attorneys.
Victims in high-profile cases often need help navigating the complex myriad of news media inquiries and protecting themselves and their families from unwarranted intrusions into their privacy. The desire to have an attorney who is singularly focused on protecting the victim in many different arenas is completely understandable and expected in a case such as this and does not bear negatively on the witness's credibility in any way.