Amy Gehrt: Cosby accusers deserve to be heard
As a child growing up in the ’80s, I always assumed Bill Cosby was much like the man he played on “The Cosby Show” — kind, gentle and able to find humor in any situation.
Over the last decade, however, the familiar father figure’s image has been tarnished by repeated rape allegations, revealing an apparent dark side few fans ever suspected might exist back in the comic’s heyday.
Perhaps that’s why so many people are seemingly having such difficulty accepting that Cosby’s public persona might merely disguise the dramatically different and far-more-disturbing predator that dwells within. And, as is so often the case, they instead opt to blame the victims and assail their credibility.
People have questioned why it took these women so long to come forward, and why they would’ve taken pills that Cosby gave them.
The answer to the first question is fairly obvious, given how they are being treated even now. These were young women, impressionable and star-struck, and many say Cosby started out as a mentor, promising to help them launch careers.
Had they come forward, who would have been believed — a young woman who was, in many cases, too drugged to even recall the whole attack, or the famous “family-friendly” comedian who had headlined America’s No. 1 TV show for years?
Even now, when the accusers who have stepped forward are older, successful and with established careers of their own — a retired lawyer, a former supermodel, an artist, a former journalist and a nurse are among his accusers — the criticism being directed at them and the questions being asked are astonishing ... and unforgivable.
Even CNN’s Don Lemon, a sexual assault victim himself, showed his lack of understanding on the subject when interviewing Cosby accuser Joan Tarshis. He asked Tarshis to confirm comments she’d made about convincing Cosby not to force intercourse on her by falsely claiming she had an infection that he would transmit to his wife, so Cosby instead forced her to perform oral sex on him. After she did, Lemon asked why she had not bitten her attacker’s penis rather than do what he instructed. Lemon subsequently issued an on-air apology.
Still, the comment left me — and many others — reeling. Are there still so many people in this world who believe that rape is about sex, not about power, subjugation and violence? If a sexual assault victim bit her attacker in that manner, he could erupt, maybe even killing her.
Plus, let’s not forget that, based on their own accounts, many of these women were drugged at the time of their sexual assaults. Why would they have taken pills given to them by Cosby? Some were reportedly suffering from an ailment at the time — cramps, the flu, etc. How many of us have accepted a friend, family member or colleague’s offer of a pain reliever without question?
During an interview with the Huffington Post, Cosby accuser Therese Serignese explained that when the comedian instructed her to take the pills, she was just 19 years old. “I went to Catholic school, I learned to be obedient, and this was an authority. This was like my father. This was like my teacher; like the president. This was an authority [figure]. So, I did it. I took the pills.”
Her next memory, she said, was of Cosby raping her.
Reading through the women’s accounts, it’s eerie how startlingly similar many of their stories are.
Tamara Green, who later became a lawyer, was an aspiring model in her 20s when she met Cosby. She said the comedian wanted her to help open a club, so he gave her his address book and asked her to call his friends to get the financing together. After a couple of days, she said, she came down with the flu and told Cosby she needed to go home.
He said he had something that would make her feel better and asked her to meet him at a restaurant. She took the proffered pills, she said, and briefly felt better ... but then was “almost literally face down on the table.” Green told CNN Cosby took her home and, once there, began “groping me and kissing me and touching me and handling me and you know, taking off my clothes.”
She said she told Cosby “that if he didn’t kill me and he tried to rape me, it was going to go very badly,” at which point he put two $100 bills on her coffee table and left.
Several of these women have told their stories before, and many were among the dozen or more “Jane Does” lined up to testify in the lawsuit Andrea Constand, the former director of operations for the Temple University women’s basketball team, filed in 2005 against Cosby after prosecutors declined to file criminal charges, citing a lack of evidence — although then-district attorney Bruce Castor now admits he thought Cosby “did it.”
That lawsuit was settled out of court in 2006.
So why are they all speaking out now, when the only justice they can hope for is in the court of public opinion? As Serignese told the HuffPo: “I wish he would quit lying and denying it, because what helps [victims] heal, is that validation that someone hears you, that someone believes you, that you matter. It mattered. What happened to you mattered.”
Pekin Daily Times city editor Amy Gehrt may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.