New York Magazine, By Noreen Malone and Portfolio By Amanda Demme, July 26
More has changed in the past few years for women who allege rape than in all the decades since the women’s movement began. Consider the evidence of October 2014, when an audience member at a Hannibal Buress show in Philadelphia uploaded a clip of the comedian talking about Bill Cosby: “He gets on TV, ‘Pull your pants up, black people … I can talk down to you because I had a successful sitcom.’ Yeah, but you rape women, Bill Cosby, so turn the crazy down a couple notches … I guess I want to just at least make it weird for you to watch Cosby Show reruns. Dude’s image, for the most part, it’s fucking public Teflon image. I’ve done this bit onstage and people think I’m making it up … That shit is upsetting.” The bit went viral swiftly, with irreversible, calamitous consequences for Cosby’s reputation.
Perhaps the most shocking thing wasn’t that Buress had called Cosby a rapist; it was that the world had actually heard him. A decade earlier, 14 women had accused Cosby of rape. In 2005, a former basketball star named Andrea Constand, who met Cosby when she was working in the athletic department at Temple University, where he served on the board of trustees, alleged to authorities that he had drugged her to a state of semi-consciousness and then groped and digitally penetrated her. After her allegations were made public, a California lawyer named Tamara Green appeared on the Today show and said that, 30 years earlier, Cosby had drugged and assaulted her as well. Eventually, 12 Jane Does signed up to tell their own stories of being assaulted by Cosby in support of Constand’s case. Several of them eventually made their names public. But they were met, mostly, with skepticism, threats, and attacks on their character.
In Cosby’s deposition for the Constand case, revealed to the public just last week, the comedian admitted pursuing sex with young women with the aid of Quaaludes, which can render a person functionally immobile. “I used them,” he said, “the same as a person would say, ‘Have a drink.’ ” He asked a modeling agent to connect him with young women who were new in town and “financially not doing well.” In the deposition, Cosby seemed confident that his behavior did not constitute rape; he apparently saw little difference between buying someone dinner in pursuit of sex and drugging them to reach the same goal. As for consent, he said, “I think that I’m a pretty decent reader of people and their emotions in these romantic sexual things.” If these women agreed to meet up, his deposition suggested, he felt that he had a right to them. And part of what took the accusations against Cosby so long to surface is that this belief extended to many of the women themselves (as well as the staff and lawyers and friends and others who helped keep the incidents secret).
Months after his depositions, Cosby settled the case with Constand. The accusations quickly faded from the public’s memory, if they registered at all. No one wanted to believe the TV dad in a cardigan was capable of such things, and so they didn’t. The National Enquirer had planned to run a big story detailing one of the women’s accounts, but the magazine pulled it when Cosby agreed to give them a two-page exclusive telling his side (essentially that these were instances that had been “misinterpreted”). People ran a story alleging that several of the women had taken money in exchange for their silence, implying that this was nothing more than an elaborate shakedown. Cosby’s career rolled on: In 2014 alone, there was a stand-up special, plans for a new family comedy on NBC, and a high-profile biography by Mark Whitaker that glossed over the accusations.
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