History was made in Norristown when Montgomery County’s Judge Steven T. O’Neill delivered the sentencing in the first high-profile celebrity case of the #MeToo era. On Sept. 25, 2018 O’Neill sentenced comedian Bill Cosby to three to 10 years in state prison for the 2004 assault of Andrea Constand. At the forefront of the legal battle, which spanned three years and two trials, was former Montgomery County assistant district attorney Kristen Gibbons Feden.
The 35-year-old, who now works for Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky in Philadelphia, delivered the trial’s closing arguments back in April, and was the sole woman sitting at the prosecutor’s bench throughout the trial. Feden, who graduated from Temple University’s Beasley School of Law in 2009, is no stranger to sex crimes. While working at the DA’s office, she served as the captain of the Edler Abuse Unit and the Domestic Violence Unit, as well as a member of the Sex Crimes Unit.
At Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky, Feden now focuses on sexual abuse, civil rights and victims of crimes. In addition to her law practice, she also works as an adjunct professor in the graduate sociology program at Rosemont College, and serves on the boards of the Victim Services Center of Montgomery County, and AEquitas.
MLT: How did you keep your composure during the trial, especially as the defense questioned Andrea Constand?
KGF: Victim shaming and blaming, unfortunately, is not unique to this case. It’s something that’s been going on for a long time. I have prosecuted several sex crimes cases and that is a common theme, so to keep my composure was something that was very difficult. What made it easier was knowing that I got to deliver part of the closing argument and I was able to address every single shameful thing that was said to characterize these women as something less than human.
MLT: This case was the first high-profile sexual assault trial of the #MeToo era and it happened here in the Philadelphia suburbs. What do you think that means for Montgomery County and the local legal system?
KGF: I think it sends a message that, at least in Montgomery County, if you’re a victim of a crime, whether it’s sexual assault or any other kind of crime, your crime is going to be taken seriously. It sends a message to Montgomery County residents that our prosecutor’s office will handle your crime with care, with a thorough investigation, without minimizing or diminishing you and will treat you like a person and like a survivor.
MLT: What about on a national level?
KGF: I hope it provides strength for victims and survivors of crimes, particularly sex crimes, that justice can be served. A jury said that Andrea Constand could be believed, even against a defendant that had a display of wealth and power. I think that’s a powerful message to sex crime victims.
MLT: In this case, do you feel justice was served?
KGF: Absolutely. And it was great that even though [Bill Cosby’s other accusers] were not permitted to testify during the sentencing hearing, it was really nice that they were given a forum at the press conference afterwards to describe how that crime has impacted them.
MLT: According to RAINN, two-thirds of all sexual assaults go unreported. Do you think the fact that Cosby was found guilty and sentenced to jail will motivate more sexual assault victims to come forward?
KGF: I think it’s really important that with the #MeToo movement and the Time’s Up movement that we can create a culture shift that tells the public that they can’t assassinate a person’s character when they finally gain enough courage to disclose a crime that’s as heinous as sexual assault, and that [victims] will be given a fair shot and not just automatically discredited based on unrelated facts. My hope is that more sex crime victims will feel more comfortable to disclose instances of assault and abuse, or at the very least they won’t feel so isolated.