“Thoughts on Conversation with Kristen Gibbons, Prosecuting Attorney of Bill Cosby”

When Kristen Gibbons received an email from her boss to meet in their office on a typical work day she had no idea what to expect. She certainly was not anticipating her boss asking her to hand deliver a letter. She thought to herself, couldn’t you just have someone else do it? However, this letter was not for any ordinary client or case. Delivering this letter was Gibbons’ first action as one of the litigators in the Bill Cosby trials.

 

Gibbons was on Lafayette’s campus April 4th to kick off sexual assault awareness month as a keynote speaker in front of 200 students, staff, and faculty. As a prosecutor, her work focused on sex crimes in domestic settings. Her prior career as an active advocate for these women and children was the perfect lead up to her role in the Bill Cosby case, one of the first high profile convictions of the #MeToo movement. Gibbons discussed myths of sexual assault, the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses, and the personalized way she handled both high profile and day-to-day cases.

 

The first thought Gibbons had when she was revealed the magnitude of the case was, Oh god, how will my father react? Gibbons grew up looking at Cosby as a role model in the African American community by portraying a successful, family oriented doctor on the hit series, The Cosby Show. Despite the influences she faced, Gibbons stated that she soon realized, “this was not about anything other than doing the right thing.” She pushed her personal connections and background out of the picture and immediately filled the role of what the case needed. Sometimes it was the supportive ally for the victims to trust and lean on, and other times she was the hungry prosecutor, ready to win her clients the justice they deserved.

 

One of the most complicating aspects of the Bill Cosby trials was his celebrity status, which dissuaded victims from stepping forward for fear of embarrassment or lack of solidarity. Another obstacle was the accounts of the victims. The credibility determination assessment, which officers and lawyers use to judge survivors, embarrass and often discourage survivors through its harsh line of questioning. This questionnaire poses questions to victims using ‘you’ statements which leads them to internalize the blame of the incident. Some questions could be, “Why were you out so late?” or “Why were you drinking?” Gibbons believes it is vital in our society to treat all survivors with humanity and support.

 

Gibbons stated in the beginning of her talk that her goal was to advocate for sexual assault awareness by encouraging education. She emphasized the importance of everyone joining together to become active in this movement. Gibbons relating to her heavily student populated audience by connecting her experience working in the Bill Cosby trial with the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses.

 

According to Gibbons, “11.2% of all students experience rape or physical assault through violence or incapacitation.” Gibbons emphasized the fact that most of these students will know their offender. It goes to show that anyone can be a victim; but what is more important is that we all are aware of how frequent it is. When it does happen, we are ready as a community or a friend to support and ultimately stand up to this issue.

 

The conviction of Bill Cosby is considered by many to be an important moment in women’s history. It advocates for women’s rights and security, knowing that justice is possible. But it mustn't stop here. Gibbons noted that increasing our awareness and humanity for others is the only way to support existing survivors and prevent more assaults. Gibbons’ account of the trial and her experience with supporting victims was an excellent kick off to sexual assault awareness month.