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June 30 Was a Devastating Day For Women Everywhere

Bill Cosby is free. He’s free on a technicality, despite 60 women coming forward and repeatedly sharing their harrowing and credible stories with the whole world. He’s free despite his own incriminating testimony. He’s free after serving only three years in prison despite a whole lifetime of allegedly drugging and raping and traumatizing women. He is unapologetic and unrepentant, and he is free.

Also free, we learned as of yesterday, is James Franco, who finally wheedled his way out from under sexual misconduct and fraud allegations. He agreed to settle a class-action lawsuit filed by former students for over $2.2 million, three years after female students first accused him of sexually exploitative practices during acting lessons he held at the Studio 4 school. Franco’s former co-stars, Ally Sheedy and Busy Philipps, both spoke out about their own awful experiences with the actor. At this point, even his one-time best friend Seth Rogen has disowned Franco. But, just like Bill Cosby, Franco is free.

Dylan Farrow described the Cosby and Franco outcomes as a “travesty,” and summed up the feelings of frustrated women everywhere on Twitter.

It is a perfect example of how not just our society, but our justice system, continually fails survivors of sexual assault. For those that question … survivors about the reasons and timing of coming forward, I hope that today will serve as a teachable moment on empathy, on why it takes years—if ever—for someone to disclose their abuse. Many survivors will look at the events of today and decide it’s not worth it; that even when justice is served, it can be taken away … My heart goes out to the survivors today and every day.

To make matters worse, also on June 30, Britney Spears was denied freedom from her conservatorship. This despite her disturbing testimony detailing the myriad ways her life is restricted, controlled and, frankly, not her own. Spears bravely stood up in a court, pleaded with a judge to help her (because, among other things, she says she is being forced to keep using birth control against her will) and, despite an outpouring of public support, it all came to naught. Britney Spears is not free.

If American women had ever been in any doubt about who the legal system in this country protects, June 30 let us know, loudly and clearly, three times in a row. If any of us had been laboring under the assumption that things were improving for women in the post-#MeToo landscape, June 30 shut that hope right back down, over and over again.

In the years since the hashtag exploded onto the cultural landscape in 2017, much has been made of the #MeToo movement and the ways that it “targets” men. But the truth of the matter is that even after hundreds of thousands of women publicly revealed their traumas; even after famous women named and shamed their attackers, the only two high-profile abusers punished in a court of law post-#MeToo were Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein. (We almost got Jeffrey Epstein too, but we all know how that turned out.) We understood them to be only the two most obvious, most egregious serial predators. And what that quietly told women everywhere was that, in order to bring down a rapist in a court of law, scores of women have to be victimized first. If you happen to get raped by a man who doesn’t rape scores of other women? Well, good luck and godspeed.

Now, of course, one of the only two legal victories we were clinging to for the sake of hope, sanity and some semblance of justice is suddenly null and void. Because a fairly feeble technicality (three justices dissented) was given priority over the lives, physical and mental welfare, and interrupted careers of 60 women.

That means our only remaining proof that justice might prevail in matters of sexual assault is Harvey Weinstein. And despite his 23-year prison sentence, his case reeks of injustice too. Because while Weinstein was convicted of third-degree rape and first-degree criminal sexual act, those were only two of the five charges that he faced. In the wave of relief that followed his two convictions, America somehow managed to forget the fact that he was found not guilty on three other charges. An astonishing outcome, given what we’d been told, repeatedly, about the man on trial.

Weinstein was found not guilty of first-degree rape, defined in the state of New York as “engag[ing] in sexual intercourse with another person by forcible compulsion.” This despite Jessica Mann’s harrowing testimony that, “The more I fought, the angrier he got.” He was also found not guilty of two counts of predatory sexual assault. Annabella Sciorra appeared in court specifically in support of those charges. She testified that she was raped by Weinstein after he forced his way into her apartment. “I was punching, I was kicking him, I was trying to take him away from me,” she said. Apparently the jury didn’t believe her.

Even in Weinstein’s case, the overwhelming reality of just how hard it is for women to get justice in this country is writ large. But at least Harvey Weinstein isn’t free.

That feeling of outrage that washed over us when Cosby was released yesterday isn’t new, of course. We feel it every time we think about Christine Blasey Ford and Anita Hill and the victimized students of The Hunting Ground and the female soldiers of The Invisible War. We feel it when we think about Brock Turner. And we definitely feel it every time we remember all the men who were “#MeToo-ed” but never faced criminal charges, and are still working.

If I sound depressed and despondent and hopeless, it’s because I am. Like most women in this country, I am tired. I am tired of men getting away with it. I am tired of flimsy punishments that don’t fit the crime. I am tired of hearing women relive their traumas over and over again, only to be tossed the smallest consolation crumbs.

I didn’t want to write this essay. I really didn’t. The truth is, I started it back in February 2020 after Weinstein’s three not-guilty verdicts. But I stopped because, at the time, it felt more important to let American women have a moment of vindication. Then on June 30, the truth screamed at us from every corner of the news: the American legal system does not care about the lives of women. Not really. Not enough. And when it can so swiftly take away one of the small slivers of justice that was so hard won, we’re allowed a moment to grieve too.

Copyright 2021 KQED