EDITORIAL Allow victims a voice

York Dispatch

The high-profile case that saw actor and comedian Bill Cosby enter a Pennsylvania courtroom last week to answer a felony charge of aggravated indecent assault underscores the difficulty victims encounter when attempting to speak out about the sexual abuse they have suffered — particularly when the accused wields any type of power, real or perceived.

In this file photo, Bill Cosby arrives at court to face a felony charge of aggravated indecent assault Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015, in Elkins Park, Pa. Cosby was charged Wednesday with drugging and sexually assaulting a woman at his home 12 years ago. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

In Cosby’s case, more than 40 women have come forward with sexual assault and rape allegations spanning 50 years. His stature as a well-known entertainer makes it difficult for people to believe — or want to believe — that the allegations could be true.

That — and the statute of limitations on many of the accusations — have kept Cosby out of the courtroom until now, as he answers charges connected to an alleged 2004 incident involving Andrea Constand, a staffer for the women’s basketball team at Temple University.

The power Cosby wields as a rich and influential performer is something that deterred most of the women from coming forward in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, they have said. They worried about who would believe them, and they worried about what people would say regarding the part they might have played in the encounters.

The sheer number of women who have alleged sexual misconduct by Cosby suggests strength in numbers — something most victims don’t have.

Truthfully, the women said, they felt they would be ignored, vilified – or worse given Cosby’s stature.

Such is the case when someone in a position of power abuses another person.

In the case of sexual abuse, largely committed against women, the attitudes are slowly changing as we learned in Dispatch reporter Jessica Schladebeck’s report “High-profile abuse cases inspire some victims to report.”

But there is still a long way to go.

Approximately 60 percent of adult rapes are not reported to the police and 90 percent of child rape goes unreported, said Kristen Houser, spokeswoman for Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape.

"The No. 1 reason people don't report sexual abuse is that they don't trust the people around them to respond appropriately," Houser told us.

It is everyone’s responsibility to encourage women, from the time they are young girls, to speak out if they are harassed or worse. It's important to make it very clear to young people that they are not to be touched inappropriately and that there is a safe adult in whom they can confide if such a thing were to happen.

It’s not easy to encourage victims to come forward because it’s not the kind of information that one might necessarily welcome. And it can set in motion a series of difficult events — such things that can strain families, at the very least.

However, if we fail to talk to young people about their right to speak out against abuse and to report people — even those in power — without fear of retribution, we contribute to a culture in which victims have no confidence that those around them will respond in a safe and proper way.

And that’s a culture in which abuse can go unchecked — sometimes for decades.