Bill Cosby protesters demand changes in rape laws

More than three dozen people gathered Saturday at Bill Cosby’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame to protest a law that they say prevents rape victims from fully seeking justice.

In the past year, more than 45 women have accused Cosby of sexual assault during his decades as an entertainer.

The legal deadline for prosecuting most rape cases in California is a decade, so many of the accusations will not be investigated. Cosby, 78, has never been charged with a crime, and has said that the encounters were consensual.

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Eliminating the statute of limitations for rape, or at least extending it, would give assault survivors more time to heal, advocates said. Too often, they said, rape victims spend years grappling with the fear and shame of admitting what happened, only to learn that they’ve come forward too late.

“When someone is ready to speak up, that’s when they find out that they can’t anymore,” said Maya Paley, 32, an advocate with the National Council of Jewish Women who was sexually assaulted when she was 15. She said she only told her father last week.

State Sen. Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino) has said that she will introduce a bill when the Legislature convenes in January to eliminate the statute of limitations for sex crimes, including rape, sodomy and sexual abuse of children.

The statewide association of criminal defense attorneys plans to scrutinize the bill, a lobbyist told The Times this month, because the current law is more flexible than many realize.

The statute of limitations can be extended when the sexual assault victim is a minor, or when DNA evidence is uncovered later.

There is no statute of limitations for murder, Lili Bernard told the crowd, to cheers and applause. And, she said,“rape is the murder of the soul.”

Bernard, a filmmaker and actor, said she was drugged and raped by Cosby in Atlantic City in the 1990s after she guest-starred on the last season of “The Cosby Show.” She struggled with trauma and suicidal thoughts, she said, and did not publicly discuss the assault for more than two decades.

“It takes rape survivors time to weather the storm of shame and victimization,” Bernard said. “It’s unfair that once you’re ready to talk, you can’t.”

Another woman who has accused Cosby of rape said at the rally that she struggled for years to come to terms with the attack. In 1969, Victoria Valentino said, the entertainer comforted her over the recent death of her 6-year-old son, then drugged her and raped her in the Hollywood Hills.

“I was a grieving mother,” Valentino said. “That’s the kind of compassion that these people have. None.”

laura.nelson@latimes.com

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