It isn’t easy, but here’s how you bring down powerful men accused of rape

February 11, 2015
Former IMF head Strauss-Kahn leaves his hotel to attend the trial in the so-called Carlton Affair

Former IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn leaves his hotel to attend his trial in Lille, France, Feb. 11, 2015, where 14 people including Strauss-Kahn stand accused of sex offences. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

Accusations of sexual abuse against wealthy and powerful men are nothing new. Just recently, British royal Prince Andrew was accused of having sex with an underage girl, former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn is in the news again facing “pimping” charges in France, and new Bill Cosby rape accusations continue to bubble to the surface.

All three men have denied any impropriety, and only Dominique Strauss-Kahn is currently facing criminal charges.

Holding powerful men to account is rife with challenges. Proving sexual assault beyond a reasonable doubt is often legally difficult, especially when an alleged sexual predator is an influential public figure. The scales of justice are tipped in favor of the powerful before a case even reaches a courtroom. The public almost always sides with celebrity, and social media often unleashes an Internet-fueled public backlash, debilitating victims once they do come forward.

But this public shaming of victims has also spurred an unexpected counter-effect: It’s inspiring other victims to come forward online, in the media, even in the courtroom —and it’s altering the balance of power between victims and abusers.

Typically, victims can do very little to protect their public image, as the men they accuse of abuse often have endless amounts of money at their disposal to hire top public relations teams, high-priced attorneys, and image consultants who can simultaneously airbrush their public persona, while smearing the reputation of the women who dare to speak out against them.

Motivations of accusers, rather than the accused, are questioned, and allegations of “money grabs” are made. For instance, when star Florida State University quarterback Jameis Winston was accused of raping a fellow student, the public questioned her credibility and sprang to defend the Heisman Trophy winner. Winston was never arrested and has not been charged with any crime related to the accusations.

In the media, the line of thinking is the same. On CNN, host Nancy Grace said in recent a segment on Bill Cosby rape accusations saying: “[E]very time another woman comes forward, everybody says…What’s in it for her?” Indeed, one of the guests on her show, a defense lawyer, suggested the women might have been “seeking publicity.”

The Internet has made things even harder for victims.

When an English soccer player was accused of rape, a fellow teammate took to the Web to defend the player, calling the woman making the accusation “a money grabbing little tramp.” Within hours of a guilty verdict in the case, the victim’s name was trending on Twitter.

When Vine celebrity Curtis Lepore was accused of raping fellow Internet star, and ex-girlfriend, Jessi Smiles, the response online was severe. Despite Lepore pleading guilty to a lesser charge, a Twitter search of the terms “Jessi Smiles” and “slut” reveals the overwhelming support for the accused celebrity, not the victim of the crime.

Despite all of this, the role of the Internet in sexual abuse cases is changing.

As the Cosby saga has played out, we’ve begun to see the online world play a positive, equalizing role enabling victims to come forward and speak up in support of others. It was, in fact, social media that brought the decades-old sexual assault claims against Cosby back into the public consciousness, an act that eventually inspired solidarity among victims, and ultimately the general public. More than 30 alleged victims came forward with their stories, bringing vindication to women like Barbara Bowman, whose early allegations against Cosby were met with intimidation, doubt, and disbelief.

Despite the challenges victims of sexual assault face when confronting men of power and wealth, the benefits of speaking up are clear. In my experience as a lawyer, the best way to prevent future instances of sexual assault is to expose sexual predators — no matter who they are. It empowers others who were too afraid to speak out. The moment other victims come forward, the credibility of all prior allegations is boosted. When numerous women come out, all at the same time, online or in a courtroom, and testify to abuse, even the most rich and powerful men have a hard time winning back public support and the balance of power begins to shift.


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

Mr. Herman is right that the benefits of reporting sex crimes almost always outweigh the risk. The short term pain can be significant. But the long term healing, justice, and prevention are far greater.
Barbara Dorris
Outreach Director for SNAP

Posted by snapdorris | Report as abusive

“The moment other victims come forward, the credibility of all prior allegations is boosted.”
Using that logic if 300 women emerged to say they were raped by Cosby the credibility of the allegations against him would be further boosted ten times. What if.. 3,000 women said they were raped by him? Are we supposed to believe all of them to avoid “blaming the victims”? Where does this end? Where do they draw the line between believing all the accusers and starting to think that, when the number of the accusers grows conspicuously, at least some of them must be money grabbers? I do not mean to question the women accusing Cosby of being sexually assaulted by him, but you really need to take into account the possibility that at least one of them, or one that yet has to emerge, is a money grabber. How can you prove who’s right when there is no physical evidence and no witnesses, and you just have a case of “her word against his”? And why, just by convincing a grand jury that your client is truthful, can that be regarded as “proof”?

Posted by Korios | Report as abusive

I find it odd and slightly amusing that Mr Herman didn’t include Jeffrey Epstein and Alan Dershowitz. Epstein was the alleged impresario of Prince Andrew’s improprieties and Dershowitz is the unapologetic apologist for himself and those rich and powerful men whose table he worships and allegedly sat at and sampled.

Posted by aeci | Report as abusive

there is not a shred of evidence suggesting DSK committed rape. (Hint for stockholm syndrome suffering progressives, being a john is different from being a rapist)

and yet all over the media including this article, and pretty much any1 with a grievance has already taken a position against him, then somehow in all of this the scales of justice are tipped in his favor cause he is rich.

NOPE, you are not fooling at least me. DSK has a bullseye on his back because he is rich. This kind of behaviour does not harm the rich as class because those in these rich classes become aware of the situation and find ways to protect themselves.

However these grievance industries will one day regret the day they gave birth to such monsters when it comes back to haunt them.

All those progressives/liberals/feminists/single parents/discriminated minorities/…… every other loser and some1 with a greivance will regret the day they traded away, “innocent until proven guilty”, and the bill of rights, the cause of liberty, protection of private property, for what in return? sympathic leaders like sharpton and Obama who spoke to your heart. thats it, thats what you got for your sovereignty?

Posted by yobro_yobro88 | Report as abusive


Does it matter if one or even ten of Cosby’s accusers are after the media attention and the unlikely event of money pay-off? Because that leaves 20-29 who were RAPED and dared to come forward with their story. How many other women were raped and chose not to be subjected to public scrutiny and skepticism?

Women who falsely accuse a man of rape should be dealt with harshly, very harshly for legitimizing the skepticism. But far more numerous than those liars are the women who have been raped and don’t come forward because as you say, too often it’s “her word against his.”

My advice to women who have been raped or harassed: be strong, come forward and report the incident and get it on the record. You owe it to yourself and other women who may become future victims.

Posted by distancematters | Report as abusive

“Motivations of accusers, rather than the accused, are questioned”

So are you saying investigators should *not* examine the motivations of accusers, only of the accused? Really? This article is full of very loaded language.

Posted by evilhippo | Report as abusive

“Using that logic if 300 women emerged to say they were raped by Cosby the credibility of the allegations against him would be further boosted ten times.”

What the author is referring to is the court of public opinion. OBVIOUSLY (Well, obvious to intelligence) we’re not referring to the ‘court of law’ in this case, although TESTIMONY (which the accusations thus far are not but just as easily could be in the right legal forum) is certainly a form of evidence and yes the MORE EVIDENCE there is of something certainly CAN give the accusations more credence.

Posted by pyradius | Report as abusive

I am totally for ending corruption in rape cases.

BUT – why would you want to “bring down” powerful men “accused” of rape. Bringing them to court and getting a conviction is a different matter.

The aggressive title phraseology says a lot about the mindset of the author.

Posted by Sledgedog | Report as abusive 39544/posts/e5vBecfNDJw
Bill Cosby Rape Facts: Based on historic serial rapist data statistics Bill Cosby is an international serial rapist. 98% of victims tell the truth; 5% of rape crimes are reported. 2% of victims lie; 95% of rape crimes are never reported because victims fear rapist reprisal. These statistics and supporting links are provided in detail below. As of March 1, 2015, 35 women have accused Cosby of rape. These 35 women represent only 5% of the victims Cosby raped. Cosby, a sociopath serial rapist, lacks conscience, empathy, remorse, guilt or shame. If you doubt these statistics please do your own research. This is IMPORTANT!
WHY! VICTIMS MATTER! These victims represent all of us, our families, our children, daughters, wives, mothers and sisters. When our courts and countries fail to protect our families we must take action.
Cosby Rapist Law – Decree: Help set a new precedence, perhaps the “Cosby Rapist Law” decree enabling the capture, prosecution and imprisonment of so many serial rapists who have avoided capture. Let this be the Cosby legacy #cosbyrapistlaw
Agree! Please take this link viral today. WHY! VICTIMS MATTER! Help stop rapist Cosby’s ongoing reprisal threats against the women who have accused him of rape. 39544/posts/e5vBecfNDJw

Posted by MaryDtn9 | Report as abusive