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#MeToo And The Law


This week, a jury found Bill Cosby guilty on three counts of aggravated, indecent assault. He now faces prison time in a case brought by former Temple University employee Andrea Constand. Cosby's been accused of drugging and assaulting several dozen women since the mid-1960s. Five other women testified in the trial that Cosby gave them drugs, then sexually assaulted them. Cosby's defense questioned the moral character of the women. Carrie Goldberg is a lawyer. She also leads a Brooklyn law firm that focuses on victims of sexual assault and online harassment. Ms. Goldberg, thanks so much for being with us.

CARRIE GOLDBERG: I'm delighted to be here.

SIMON: Do you see the conviction of Bill Cosby as some kind of turning point in the weight that juries put in the words of women who say they've been assaulted?

GOLDBERG: You know, I think it's such a fitting end to sexual assault awareness month for Bill Cosby to be found guilty. You know, a lot of people are saying, wow, is that a sign of bias? Is #MeToo biasing the courtroom? And the answer is no. It's not a sign of bias, but it's maybe a small sign of the bias disappearing.

SIMON: Well, let me ask about Kathleen Bliss who - Bill Cosby's defense attorney. And she accused one of his accusers of cavorting, another one of being an aged-out model. Did that kind of rhetoric just not work anymore?

GOLDBERG: Yeah, no, I think that's very true. I think that the jury becoming more aware of sexual assault, harassment and rape and more skeptical of the old norms of slut shaming and dismissing witnesses as liars or whores or sluts, I think that's a really good thing and maybe did have something to do with the progress that we saw in this verdict.

SIMON: What would you make, though, of the defense attorney Kathleen Bliss also telling the jurors that questioning an accuser is not blaming the victim? You're an attorney. You know that a defense attorney is supposed to provide a vigorous defense.

GOLDBERG: I do think that the verdict does undermine her shaming tactics, and it's outdated. It was sexist, twisted misogyny that, you know, she had masquerading as, quote, unquote, "good lawyering." You know, not believing the accuser in sex crimes has always been a barrier to justice. You know, victims who are largely women are entering a system where historically they've failed. About 2 percent of sexual assault cases see an arrest. And that is because of bias. You know, victims are perceived as opportunists from the outset. So the historic default has always been to doubt the accuser, and it's just so time for that to end.

SIMON: The evidence had a lot to do with the verdict too, though, didn't it? There were five witnesses, five accusers, who testified this time as opposed to just the one accuser, Andrea Constand, in a previous trial.

GOLDBERG: Right, right. In these cases where the accused is a serial predator - you know, Bill Cosby with 60 accusers, Weinstein with 80, Nassar with even more - it does have an effect on the perception of a jury. And, you know, it does credit the main victim witness to hear that there are other people who had the exact same story. That's a good thing. So if that did impact the jury, then that's not bias, but that's a tiny molecule removing bias.

SIMON: Do you have any concern, though, as an attorney that - as you know, trials are supposed to be about a specific case and not about a general movement in society, aren't they?

GOLDBERG: Absolutely. But this trial was about a specific case. And to have other witnesses say, hey, that same thing happened to me, that doesn't make it about a movement.

SIMON: Carrie Goldberg, attorney in Brooklyn, N.Y., thanks very much for being with us.

GOLDBERG: Thank you for inviting me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.