Implications in Cosby charges for LGBT assault survivors

For LGBT survivors of sexual assault, the charges against Bill Cosby could help create an environment where people feel safe to report abuse.

Once considered America’s dad as the star of the sitcom “The Cosby Show,” Cosby was charged last week with drugging and sexually assaulting a woman in his Montgomery County home in 2004.

The 78-year-old was arraigned Dec. 30 and could face a decade in prison if convicted. The woman, Andrea Constand, is a lesbian and former employee of Temple University.

“Any time you’re working with an individual who’s not a majority, it’s important to be sensitive to that and competent around that,” said Amy Tarr, a licensed clinical social worker at Mazzoni Center. “People may feel less comfortable about reporting because they’re used to stigma in their daily lives.”

Rape is already a severely underreported crime, experts say. Many of the dozens of women who accused Cosby of abuse took years to do so. They said they felt people would not believe their reports because Cosby was a famous figure.

“Generally, sexual assault is a really awful thing for anyone to experience,” Tarr said. “The more people are talking about it, the more people who have experienced assault may feel comfortable coming forward and seeking support.”

Tarr said, in her experience, she has not seen a major difference between working with LGBT people who have been sexually assaulted versus non-LGBT people. A 2010 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that people who identify as LGBT experience sexual violence at the same or slightly higher levels as straight and cisgender people.

Dolores M. Troiani, the lawyer representing Constand, said her client was happy with the results of the Cosby charges.

“We wish to express our appreciation to the Montgomery County District Attorney’s office, the county detectives and the Cheltenham Police Department for the consideration and courtesy they have shown Andrea during this difficult time,” Troiani said in a statement.

Constand now lives in Canada.

Cosby is free after posting 10 percent of his $1-million bail. He’s scheduled for a preliminary hearing at 9:30 a.m. Jan. 14 at Montgomery County Courthouse.