It is tempting to see that decision as another kind of ending to the Cosby story: a measure of justice carried out, finally. Retribution, made retroactively, for all that Cosby has taken from Constand and, by symbolic extension, the 59 other women who claim to have been victims of his predations. The arc of history bent, through the heat of voices that refused to be silent any longer, just a little more readily toward justice. There is, to be sure, a certain finality to the sentence: a story ended. A case closed.
But it would be a mistake to think of Tuesday’s sentencing as a conclusion, because in the broader sense, the story hasn’t ended at all. And what took place during the sentencing hearings that led to Judge O’Neill’s decision is a powerful reminder of why. For one thing, many of the women who have accused Cosby—who did not get their day in court, often because statutes of limitation had implemented their own kinds of endings—were prevented from speaking at the sentencing. Their stories, in this setting, were silenced.
For another thing, though: The testimonies presented over the course of the hearing—by Constand herself, and by members of her family, who offered impassioned evidence of the radiating effects of sexual trauma—served as their own testaments to continuity and to the fact that, whatever happens to Cosby, the stories of those on the receiving end of his predations will carry on. Those stories will be sadder and harder than they otherwise might have been, because of the entitlements of the man who was once known as “America’s Dad.”
On Monday, Andrea Constand submitted a written victim-impact statement into evidence in the Cosby sentencing hearing. “To truly understand the impact that sexual assault has had on my life,” she wrote, “you have to understand the person that I was before it happened.” Before the rape, Constand continued, she had been “a young woman brimming with confidence and looking forward to a future bright with possibilities.” And afterward: She began having nightmares. She lost her appetite. She became exhausted. She felt an “overwhelming” sense of shame.
“Bill Cosby,” Constand wrote, “took my beautiful, healthy young spirit and crushed it. He robbed me of my health and vitality, my open nature, and my trust in myself and others.”
That is the story here. And that is the story that has only a partial conclusion with Bill Cosby’s sentencing. It is the story that, for Andrea Constand, who was one person and then was made into another, has become unshakable, unending, and in many ways totalizing. “I’ve never married and I have no partner,” she writes. “I live alone. My dogs are my constant companions, and the members of my immediate family are my closest friends.”
Those family members, in lieu of the many women who were not allowed to share their own victim-impact statements during the sentencing, spoke as well: to those gathered in the courtroom and to those watching from beyond. The Constands, during the hearing, told of traumas that linger. They spoke of lives whose paths were irrevocably altered over the course of one evening. They spoke of stories that refuse to be concluded with a tidy ending.