Why Didn't We Believe Cosby's Accusers Sooner?

21 November 2014
Published in Blog

By Dean Obeidallah

November 21, 2014

The court of public opinion appears to have finally found Bill Cosby guilty of sexual misconduct.  I’m not saying that everyone believes every charge being leveled, but it seems clear that from social media, news coverage, etc., that most believe that Cosby did something horribly wrong with several women.

Even the entrainment industry that Cosby has made so much money for is cutting their ties to him-at least for now. NBC has pulled the plug on a sitcom they were developing to star Cosby. Netflix has shelved Cosby's new stand up special that was slated to premier next week. And Nick at Night has pulled reruns of “The Cosby Show” from its line up.

But here’s the thing: The allegations we are hearing now that Cosby drugged, molested or raped various women, for the most part, were revealed to the public years ago. Yet despite this information being known, NBC had no qualms entering into a new TV deal with Cosby, Netflix happily offered Cosby a brand new comedy special, and Nick at Nite still thought nothing of airing "Cosby Show" reruns. 

Plus fans were still buying tickets to his shows, including to a sold out show Thursday night, which surreally was a benefit for a women's organization. Adding to the bizarreness, while on stage, Cosby dedicated the show to his wife, yet he made no mention of the claims against him.

It’s not like the claims of these women against Cosby didn’t receive national media coverage. As quick refresher, there was Andrea Constand, a former Temple University employee, who alleged that Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted her in his Philadelphia area mansion in 2004.

Despite the prosecutor’s decision not to indict Cosby, (It’s very challenging to secure a criminal conviction without more evidence than just one person’s word against another), Constand didn't simply go away. She filed a civil lawsuit in 2005 that included the claim that 13 other women, identified as “Jane Doe” to protect their identity, were prepared to testify at trial that Cosby had sexually assaulted them as well.  Cosby settled the case in 2006 by paying Constand an undisclosed amount.

Inspired by Constand, Barbara Bowman, one of 13 “Jane Does,” went public in 2006 with her claim that Cosby had drugged and raped her in the mid- 1980’s. Bowman's story, covered at the time by People magazine and the like, was that when she was an 18-year-old aspiring actress, Cosby had slipped drugs into her drink. The next thing she could recall was that she was undressed, wearing only a men’s white shirt and Cosby was in a robe.

Then there was Tamara Green, now an attorney, who came forward in 2005 after Constand went public with her claims. Green appeared on NBC’s “The Today Show” where she told Matt Lauer that Cosby attacked her in the 1970’s when she was an aspiring model. Green asserted that Cosby had put something in her drink and then tried to molest her.

And model, now reality show star Janice Dickinson, appeared on Howard Stern’s radio show in 2006 and said Cosby is “a bad guy, he's not a nice guy. He preys on women who just came out of rehab."  She refused to offer more details at the time, noting that she didn’t have the "shekels" of Cosby to fight a legal battle with him. (Dickinson finally revealed the details of the incident this week saying that in 1982 Cosby had drugged and raped her.)

Again all of these cases received national media coverage, however, there was no uproar like we see today.  

Is it because there was no social media back then? Was it because we liked Bill Cosby too much to believe he could commit such unthinkable acts?  

Or is it deeper? Is it because we live in a society where when three or even four women assert allegations of sexual misconduct it still is not sufficient to cause people to take the claims seriously? That’s likely why Dickinson and the numerous other women who have recently come forward to reveal similar incidents with Cosby didn’t go public until now. They, too, sensed that the public, media and entertainment industry could care less.

And maybe worse, these women felt that by taking on a beloved star like Cosby, they would be the ones attacked. We would hear them called gold-diggers, they would be “slut shamed” or asked why they didn’t fight back enough?

Even removing Cosby’s fame from this equation, many women have the same concerns causing them not reporting sexual attacks to the police. Yet still the number of women who have reported being sexually assaulted in the United States is simply staggering. The CDC reports that nearly 1 in 5 women have been raped or experienced a rape attempt at one time in their lives.

So next time you’re in a public place, look around for a moment and realize that it's likely that for every five women in that location, one has been sexually assaulted. That’s how jaw-droppingly high this number is.

It's unlikely that the women who suffered at the hands of Cosby will ever see true justice. But hopefully their stories will make us more believing when other women come forward in the future alleging sexual assault. Perhaps that will save some women – perhaps even your daughter or sister - from the same fate.

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Dean Obeidallah is the editor of The Dean's Report. He is also is a former lawyer, turned political comedian/writer and a columnist for The Daily Beast.  He co-directed the recently released comedy documentary "The Muslims Are Coming!"  You can follow Dean on Twitter

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