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Our view: When victims come forward, we must listen

Herald editorial board

Bill Cosby is headed to jail, sentenced to serve three to 10 years for drugging and sexually assaulting a woman in 2004.

The comedian, actor and man who voiced the characters in the "Fat Albert" cartoon series of the 1970s has been declared a "sexually violent predator" by the presiding judge. The woman Cosby assaulted, Andrea Constand, is one of more than 50 women who have accused Cosby of sexual misconduct, generally following a similar pattern of drugging the women and assaulting them while they were unable to defend themselves.

It's been a startling development for the man once known as "America's dad." Nearly as startling is the incendiary reaction of Cosby's spokesman Tuesday following the sentencing hearing.

Andrew Wyatt told reporters that Cosby has been one of the nation's "greatest civil rights leaders" and a "great educator of men and boys." He said Cosby was denied a fair trial.

Wyatt claims the trial was the "most racist and sexist trial in the history of the United States" and even referenced the persecution of Jesus.

"They persecuted Jesus," Wyatt said, "and look what happened."

Back in April, Wyatt said the Cosby trial was akin to a "public lynching" — a racially charged comment obviously meant to incite reaction.

He also claims Cosby is the victim of a "sex war," referencing the MeToo movement.

Wyatt's comments are disgraceful and a step backward in race and gender equality in the United States.

Again, more than 50 women have accused Cosby of sexual misconduct. Cosby for decades has been among the elite and powerful, preying on women who feared retaliation if they told their stories. It's a case similar to that of Harvey Weinstein, the powerful Hollywood film producer accused by many women of sexual misconduct. Until the MeToo movement, many victims felt they were unable to report these crimes, fearing they wouldn't be heard or that they would be disgraced by making claims against supposedly elite men.

One problem with the MeToo movement is that unsubstantiated claims by disgruntled acquaintances could ruin lives and careers of the alleged attackers who are possibly innocent but disgraced nonetheless. But the great impact of MeToo is that true victims finally feel they can be believed, no matter the power, wealth or influence of their attacker.

When multiple women are willing to risk their reputation to claim they are victims of a crime, we must listen.

In this case, the number of claims against Cosby adds much weight to Constand's story. There is a big difference between an unsubstantiated accusation and the long line of women claiming they were assaulted by Cosby.

It's not racism, and it's not a sex war. It's a case of victims speaking up against a formerly powerful man. It's a step forward in American history.

No longer powerful, influential or funny, Cosby is headed to jail for just one misdeed despite numerous allegations of similar criminal behavior. Again, this is a step forward.

Wyatt's willingness to attack the MeToo movement and claim racial injustice?

That's a step backward, and a big one at that.