On Thursday, A&E aired Cosby: The Women Speak, a collection of interviews with the alleged sexual assault victims of comedian Bill Cosby. To watch the over a dozen women recount what happened to them was sobering and harrowing, not to mention likely empowering for them, because they are finally being heard.
In July, 35 women were photographed for the cover of New York magazine with the title Cosby: The Women. The cover was damning evidence of where Cosby’s image as America’s dad broke with how his alleged sexual assault victims described their attacks. In the A&E special (which you can watch in full online), a number of the victims tell their sides of what happened to them as early as the 1970s. As we know, that means Cosby was on the prowl for victims for almost 40 years when he assaulted Andrea Constand, who sued him in 2005 and settled for an undisclosed sum.
What sticks out in these stories was how calculated Cosby was in his approach. He often went through the women’s agents if they were models or aspiring actresses and offered to be a mentor. Once they were alone, he’d instruct them to do a monologue as if they were drunk. If they’d never had a drink, he’d conveniently fix them a beverage as a prop and then they’d black out soon after.
During Heidi Thomas’s encounter with Cosby, he contacted her parents because, before he flew her to a different city for his mentorship, he wanted to assure them that he was trustworthy. Instead of acting classes, Heidi says the days-long trip was a haze of being drugged and repeated sexual assault. She kept a scrapbook of her trip highlighting her arrival at the airport with her parents, the driver Cosby sent to fetch her from the airport and the ranch where they stayed. She even kept a photo she took with Cosby after she saw him again at a show in St. Louis where she tried to talk to him and understand what had happened between them. He refused to discuss it.
In another situation, Beth Ferrier, a model who had a two-year consensual affair with Cosby, met with him after they’d broken up when she says she was attacked.
“I remember waking up in the back of my car in a dark alley… I was discarded like a piece of trash,” she said, adding that she was sure she’d been violated but unsure by whom. “If you don’t know anything, how can you say you’ve been molested or raped?”
The youngest victim, Chelan Lasha, was 17 years old when she met Bill Cosby through an aunt who’d showed the comedian her picture. He offered to help her meet with modeling agents, but instead, Cosby allegedly drugged her, and felt up her breasts while masturbating on her.
“I kept thinking ‘Mr. Huxtable, Mr. Huxtable’… and then I woke up to him saying ‘Daddy’s here, wake up, Daddy’s here wake up.’ He didn’t help me, he hurt me,” Lasha said, between tears. “But who was going to believe me? I’m just a high school student.”
Ultimately, it took several events—Constand’s suit being filed and settled in 2005, Gawker writer Tom Scocca writing about the allegations, comedian Hannibal Buress saying “Yeah, but you raped women Bill Cosby” in his stand-up routine during a show in Cosby’s hometown of Philadelphia in 2014—for victims like Barbara Bowman to be able to come forward again and be heard this time. The mood had changed and suddenly America seemed open to hearing from women who’d been attacked by The Cosby Show front man, though not everyone.
“A woman drove by just two weeks ago and spit at me and called me a liar,” Joan Tarshis said in the special between near tears. “Nobody likes to be spit at, nobody likes to be called a liar. Why would I lie? That’s not what I want my legacy to be.”
Currently, Cosby is trying to avoid giving a deposition in a case brought by Judy Huth, a woman who alleges that she was 15 years old when Cosby assaulted her at the Playboy Mansion in 1974.
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Image via A&E.