Myths Surround Rape Victims 

Former Pennsylvania Prosecutor Kristen Gibbons Feden has a message for defense attorneys who represent accused rapists:  the days of victim-shaming are over.  Her prosecution partner, Stewart Ryan, agrees saying, “The band aid has been ripped off now” and more than ever victims are feeling strong enough to press charges against their attacker and go to trial.

Credit the #MeToo movement. But also credit the team of Feden and Ryan (along with police investigator Sergeant Richard Schaffer) who delivered to the nation the first major celebrity sex crimes conviction in recent history – that of comedian Bill Cosby.

Last April these two prosecutors convicted “America’s Dad,” as Cosby was once known.  He was found guilty of three counts of aggravated indecent assault in the drug-facilitated sex crimes against Andrea Constand, a young woman who worked for Temple University at the time. Cosby, 80, is currently serving 3 to 10 years in prison.

Genesis Women’s Shelter Pres. Jan Langbein Opened the Session

I met this law enforcement trio at the recent Conference on Crimes Against Women in Dallas where Feden was the keynote speaker. Feden made it clear she’s determined to explode the myths surrounding rape and to inform the public about what victims suffer when they choose to go through the rigors of a criminal trial.

First, it is a myth that the perpetrators of rape are “terrifying strangers,” she said. “85% of rapists are known to the victim.” They are trusted family friends, relatives or authority figures.

Second, people (sometimes jurors, unfortunately) doubt a rape victim who doesn’t immediately call police. That doesn’t happen, attorney Feden told the crowd. “Delayed reporting is the norm, it is not the exception. It can take weeks, months, years, even decades” for a victim to tell her story. Often, they keep the horrible secret forever.

(When I spoke to the team both Feden and Ryan agreed states’ statue of limitation laws need to be adjusted to account for this phenomenon of  delayed reporting.)

The Team – From Left, Ryan, Feden and Schaffer

And the third myth this feisty former prosecutor said she wants to dispel is that the victim’s clothing, drinking habits, past sexual history or whether she agreed to kiss the perp has something to do with the crime. “It doesn’t,” Feden said, “It is about whether she gave consent for sex or not. Period.”

Feden’s eyes flashed with anger when we spoke about the Cosby defense team’s courtroom smear tactics against Constand and some of the other women who testified about “Dr. Huxtable’s” past bad acts. Acts which included buying drugs (like Quaaludes) with the express intention of “giving them to women he wanted to have sex with,” as Feden put it.

During the Cosby trial his defense attorney, Kathleen Bliss, said one of the women had slept with “every man on the planet” which, of course, is not even possible. But the ugly image was there for the jury to ponder.  Bliss said of another accuser that she was “living the dream now,” testifying in the spotlight, after having been unsuccessful in a comedy career.  Lead counsel Tom Mesereau continuously called the woman complainants “cons” who were in it for the money. It was the same argument he used to help acquit suspected child molester Michael Jackson in 2005.  It didn’t work this time.

This kind of tarnish of an alleged victim should not be allowed, but it is.  Plaintiffs should be given the opportunity to tell their story and let the jury decide if they believe them or not.  I asked the prosecutors if judges should limit such incendiary lines of questioning. Both were quick to say that would be difficult as it is the defense lawyer’s “constitutional right to cross examine.”

Can Judges Stop Victim Shaming Questions?

Ryan told me the most frustrating thing he always heard during his years as a sex crimes prosecutor was, “I believe her…. but.”

“That’s legally that’s not accurate,” he told me, “because if you believe her about sexual assault that’s sufficient to convict (the defendant) of a crime.  Ryan thinks the “I believe her … but”  mindset is beginning to   disappear.

So ahead, is the message to other high-profile accused sex criminals, like Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and others, that they can no longer hid behind their celebrity?

Feden jumped in, “I hope so!” she said emphatically. Ryan interjected, “You took the words right out of my mouth.”

Feden, the diminutive African American mother of two young sons quickly added, “Because no one should be immune from the law. You shouldn’t be immune because you are rich and famous. Because no one is immune from sexual assault, domestic violence, gun violence. No one is immune from any of those things,” she said, “So neither should the offenders be.”

Rape is the crime no one wants to talk about. But it is time to talk about it. And to prosecute it. In fact, because rape is a crime that can steal a person’s soul, it is way past time.




  1. Diane Dimond on April 15, 2019 at 1:37 pm

    Joe Woehnker writes:

    Well done team! That monster finally got his due. Thank you!

  2. Diane Dimond on April 15, 2019 at 1:37 pm

    Daniel B. Morgan writes:

    God bless them…………..

  3. Diane Dimond on April 15, 2019 at 1:37 pm

    Kyla Thompson writes:

    Thank you to all of them. Well done. Well done.

  4. Diane Dimond on April 15, 2019 at 1:37 pm

    Dan Dominick Mahan writes:

    These three intelligent young lawyers did a great job bringing to light the hidden in plain sight ! Mostly everyone within the so called ( business) knew about Bill Cosby rumors over the years ! Gossip ! Small talk at events about the behavior of this pompous asshole who demanded respect as if he was the moral compass! I say thank you and Job well done !!

  5. Diane Dimond on April 15, 2019 at 1:37 pm

    Barbara Jane Sowak writes:

    I just adored the Cos as a girl, that voice just made one feel good. I remember a close family friend’s son playing his records and listening to that voice, then when the Cosby show came on in the 80s it was such a feel good show. Bill was the dad every girl would have wanted (I had the best dad but I am generalizing there) and he was like the intelligent, warm, kind guy next door. What a shock to discover this seemingly wonderful family man had a dark side – a Jeckyl and Hyde type character. I was shattered and very, very disappointed when the truth came out.

    But even before, I recall reading that Bill was NOT so nice as his public persona made him out to be, that in fact he could be nasty and was power driven. In life I have learned, we can expect to be shocked in ways we never would have anticipated – the way he turned out was certainly a shock because he long seemed a great role model – for anyone. The Michael freako Jackson thing – not such a shock. This? Indeed.

  6. Diane Dimond on April 19, 2019 at 1:24 pm

    Attorney Kathleen Bliss writes:

    Dear Ms. Dimond, and Editors of the Albuquerque Review Journal, (sic)

    Someone sent me Ms. Dimond’s editorial, published on April 13, 2019, in the Albuquerque Review Journal. I was a federal prosecutor in Albuquerque for approximately five years, prosecuting crimes against children and women and men committed on the Indian Reservations and Pueblos, where the federal government has jurisdiction over certain felonies. My years as a prosecutor in New Mexico were some of the most meaningful points in my career, and my personal commitment to victims of crime and my understanding of the horrors of sexual assault will never leave me.

    I am disappointed, though, that you provided a single viewpoint from the state prosecutors in the Bill Cosby case. The statements you cited of Mr. Mesereau and me were not questions but argument based on evidence adduced at trial, and you sadly provided no context for our good faith arguments. We did not “victim shame.” We are professionals who truly and firmly believe in the American justice system. I devoted 22 years of my professional life trying to provide access to criminal justice for victims of crime. But I also recognize the gripping and undeniable fact that every person in our fine country has constitutional rights, and no one should ever think of minimizing or compromising those rights, in particular, due process, the right to a fair trial and defense, and the right to remain silent. Questioning an accuser is not victim shaming. Pointing out falsehoods and bias and motive and inconsistent statements are not attempts at victim shaming. Our courtrooms must be forum
    s of evidence and reason, not vacuum chambers of outrage.

    Doubtless, #MeToo has been one of the most important and transforming movements in American history. So much needs to be done to address and rectify sexual assault and harassment at all levels. But it does not swallow constitutional rights, and it does not require prosecutors and journalists to forfeit the honest search for truth.


    Kathleen Bliss

    • Diane Dimond on April 19, 2019 at 1:25 pm

      Former Prosecutor Stewart Ryan responds:

      As an editorial writer I am sure you are not in the business of responding to reader critiques of your work. That being said words matter. Of one sexual assault survivor, Ms. Bliss stated during her closing “where is her morality? . . . [W]here are her values?” Of another, Ms. Bliss stated “she’s slept with every single man on the planet.” Of Andrea Constand, Ms. Bliss stated that she “repeatedly came on” to Cosby and suggested that what Andrea wore the night she was sexually assaulted played into the fact that she was assaulted. These are literally things that she said. They are memorialized in the record. None of those statement have anything to do with evidence or reason and in fact such statements do damage to our American system of justice. Statements like that have everything to do with shaming courageous women who stepped forward to speak their truth. Ms. Bliss cannot now revise history, her words are indelible and her closing speaks for itself. The words you wrote were important and deliver a message that bears repeating in today’s world. Thank you for writing them.

      Stewart Ryan

  7. Diane Dimond on April 19, 2019 at 1:26 pm

    Reader Dan Dominick Mahan writes:

    These three intelligent young lawyers did a great job bringing to light the hidden in plain sight ! Mostly everyone within the so called ( business) knew about Bill Cosby rumors over the years ! Gossip ! Small talk at events about the behavior of this pompous asshole who demanded respect as if he was the moral compass! I say thank you and Job well done !! /// Here’s the thing ! Public figures or Celebrity? Gives the public ( normal every day people ) the feeling that we ( they ) know the person ! People don’t realize what goes on between Publicist managers , voice coaches , agents , a team of people invent these public figures ! So to think you know some one you may admire from the screen or tv is ( well ) ridiculous! The public persona is in most cases not the actual person of whom you think you know ! The same with political figures ! The best way to judge someone’s character is what they do in real time ( real life ) not stage life ! Not a planned event not a television show ! But in actual real life ! /// The trappings of ( fame ) seams to be the catalyst for Alot of these behaviors? Privileged??? Being secluded from the actual every day world ! Being told yes by everyone over the years ? It’s not an excuse for their behavior it’s a glimpse of what makes them tick so to speak ? People have said it’s bill Cosby he was an A list star he could of legally probably had any of those woman without drugging them in the 70s the height of his career ? However his star status couldn’t have taken the hit of cheating on his wife in public ( back then ) so if you consider the behaviors of the Deviant he’s text book ! Above the rest in their mind !

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