The spectacle in Norristown, Pennsylvania, continued Tuesday during day two of jury deliberations in the Bill Cosby trial. As jurors huddled inside the courthouse, activists gathered on the steps to defend the victims of sexual violence.
Demonstrators from the National Organization for Women carried signs reading “Stop Drug-Rape Now” and “Speak Truth to Power.” They hoped to raise awareness about an unspoken epidemic: drug-facilitated sexual assault.
“I’m here to show my support and appreciation of the survivor,” said Morristown, New Jersey, resident Shannon Riley, referring to Andrea Constand, who accused Cosby of drugging and groping her in 2004.
Constand, 44, said Cosby gave her pills and told her they were "herbal." But according to her testimony, she was left "frozen" and unable to fend him off while he fondled and penetrated her with his fingers. Cosby, 79, said the pills were meant to help her relax and that the encounter was consensual.
“Even though this is not a story that people may have in their mind about what sexual assault looks like, there are many people ready to help with whatever victims are going through following an assault of any type,” said Claire McCue from NOW’s New York chapter.
Approximately 75 percent of all rapes and sexual assault involve alcohol or drugs, according to NOW. Alcohol is the most commonly used substance, but sleep aids, muscle relaxants and anxiety medications are also used. So-called street drugs, such as GBH and rohypnol, are odorless and colorless when added to beverages, creating a dangerous mix for unsuspecting victims.
Calling attention to assaults involving these substances could be the first step in preventing future crimes, the NOW activists said.
“There are a lot of elements to [the Cosby] story that I think ... we really need to start talking about,” McCue said. “There is always a need for more support.”
NOW encourages victims of sexual assault to preserve whatever evidence is available following an attack. Because many so-called date rape drugs leave one’s system within 12 to 72 hours, victims should save a urine sample in a clean, sealable container and placing it in a refrigerator or freezer.
But many victims are in shock following an attack and are not thinking about a future court case. For those people, waiting too long to file charges against an attacker could be the difference between having a day in court and allowing a sexual predator to roam free.
Celebrity attorney Gloria Allred, who is representing 33 Cosby accusers, said this trial is more than the downfall of a beloved comedian.
“This is a big case. This is an important case,” she said. “Many accusers are here today and they want justice. I want justice.”
Allred, who represented Nicole Brown Simpson’s family in the infamous OJ Simpson trial and other high-profile cases involving sexual assault, is backing a bill that would remove the statute of limitations in criminal cases for rape and sexual assault.
“We don’t think the courthouse door should be shut in the face of victims,” she said.
“If there is no statute of limitations then that means persons who believe they have been victims can go to the police and a district attorney can consider whether or not there is sufficient evidence to prove that case beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Each state has its own laws governing the statute of limitations for sex crimes. Those provisions proved key to the ongoing Cosby controversy - time ran out for all of his accusers except Andrea Constand. The jury’s decision could signal a shift in how the justice system tries these cases, Allred indicated.
“If there is a statute of limitations … then nothing can be prosecuted” after a certain time period, she said. “That is not fair. We know that rape and sexual assault is different from other crimes in the sense that sometimes it takes longer for various reasons for a victim to report.”