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The toxic pattern behind the Bill Cosby mistrial comes from rape culture

Jury Deliberates In Bill Cosby Sexual Assault Case Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images
Constance Grady is a senior correspondent on the Culture team for Vox, where since 2016 she has covered books, publishing, gender, celebrity analysis, and theater.

After jurors in the Bill Cosby trial had deliberated for about 31 hours, they told the judge they were deadlocked. The judge told them to “keep trying,” but on Saturday morning the jurors declared that they were still deadlocked, and the judge declared a mistrial.

The jurors had heard five days of testimony from prosecution witnesses, and a six-minute defense from Cosby’s lawyers. They had heard transcripts from police interviews in which Cosby admitted to giving sedatives to women with whom he wanted to have sex.

They had listened to Andrea Constand testify that Cosby gave her what he initially claimed were “herbal pills” to “take the edge off” — the pills turned out to be prescription sedatives — and then assaulted her while she was incapacitated. They had listened to Kelly Johnson testify that Cosby drugged and assaulted her too.

And they had heard suggestions from Cosby’s defense team that probably these women slept with Cosby consensually, and are pretending he assaulted them for fame and money.

After reviewing the five days of testimony from the prosecution, six minutes of testimony from the defense, and closing statements, the jury has been unable to come to a decision. In the face of enormous and compelling evidence against Cosby, they can’t decide whether or not he is guilty of sexual assault.

To be clear, Cosby’s defense team doesn’t have to provide evidence to back up its story. The burden of proof in our judicial system is on the prosecution, not on the defense. All the defense has to do is create a reasonable doubt in the jury’s mind that Cosby is maybe not a serial rapist.

His defense team appears to have successfully created reasonable doubt for at least one juror, enough reasonable doubt to deadlock the jury. And it did so by repeating the myths of rape culture: that women routinely lie about sexual assault for fame and money, that if you talk to your rapist after he attacks you — as Constand did before reporting her experience to law enforcement — that means you wanted it, that if you visit a man’s home alone, you are asking for it.

These ideas have all been ripped apart ad nauseam for decades by feminists and by social scientists, but they persist because our culture needs them: They make it possible for powerful men to hurt women with impunity and get away with it, and our culture loves powerful men and hates women. That’s what it means to live in a rape culture. That’s why we award convicted rapists with Oscars and insist that women who accuse famous movie stars of hurting them are lying. That’s why Cosby’s jury has been unable to convict him.

Bill Cosby’s trial is deadlocked despite the evidence against him and a shockingly minimal defense because our culture has already stacked the deck in his favor.