Advertisement
Share

Column: Bill Cosby is out of prison. What does that mean for his dozens of accusers?

Bill Cosby and others, with arms linked, approach members of the media gathered outside Cosby's home.
Bill Cosby, second from left, and spokesman Andrew Wyatt, third from left, approach members of the media gathered outside Cosby’s Pennsylvania home after his release from prison.
(Associated Press)

It’s really a shame that statutes of limitations on sexual assault, which vary from state to state, have prevented Bill Cosby from being tried or even sued for dozens of alleged sex assaults on women he pretended to befriend and mentor.

Despite a decades-long history of drugging women to have sex, there has so far been only one criminal case against him, and we all know what happened in that one last week.

In 2018, at the dawn of the #MeToo era, Cosby was convicted by a jury on three counts of sexually assaulting former Temple University athletic department employee Andrea Constand at his Philadelphia-area home in 2004.

On Wednesday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned his conviction because, justices ruled, his 5th Amendment right not to incriminate himself had been violated.

It’s important to remember that the court did not toss his conviction after the discovery of new, exculpatory evidence, nor did it weigh in on his guilt.

Cosby’s claims of vindication are laughable.

Any number of legal commentators have explained, however, why the court made the right call. As UC Berkeley School of Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky wrote last week in these pages, “Even those who commit despicable crimes are protected by the Constitution.”

Advertisement

Who can disagree? But let’s also take a moment to remember what dozens of women have come forward to say about the comedian, actor and author. Their stories have been remarkably similar, describing how he slipped sedatives into their drinks, as he admitted under oath in a deposition for Constand’s civil lawsuit, or gave them what he pretended were cold pills.

A total of 60 women have accused the man once known as “America’s dad” of sexual misconduct, including in many cases rape. That is an astonishing number.

There were so many “chilling similarities” in his accusers’ accounts, prosecutors said in his 2018 trial, that his behavior amounted to “a signature.”

The women who say Cosby victimized them can take some comfort in knowing that he had already been in a maximum-security prison for three of a three-to-10 year sentence. And, of course, his reputation is in tatters.

On Thursday, Variety reported that Hollywood is unlikely to embrace him.

“No one is going to work with him,” a talent agent told the trade. “No studio. No A-list actor or filmmaker. It would kill your reputation. Not to mention that you’d have to justify it to your friends and family. … He is toxic.”

And although many of the allegations against Cosby fell outside the statute of limitations, there have been some small victories for Cosby’s accusers along the way.

In 2006, Constand settled her civil lawsuit against the actor for more than $3 million.

In 2019, former model Chloe Goins settled a civil sexual battery lawsuit for an undisclosed sum after claiming Cosby drugged and molested her at the Playboy Mansion in 2008.

Seven accusers sued him for defamation in Massachusetts after Cosby, his attorney and publicist described them as liars.

That case never went to trial; Cosby’s insurance company AIG settled with the women in 2018 for undisclosed amounts. Though Cosby had countersued, he dropped the matter after the women settled, saying he had other things to focus on.

In 2019, the model and reality star Janice Dickinson, who alleged that Cosby drugged and raped her after inviting her to Lake Tahoe in 1982, described her defamation settlement as “epic.”

“Truthfully, a settlement is a victory and a measure of justice,” Dickinson said.

After the Pennsylvania Supreme Court released Cosby from prison on Wednesday, attorney Gloria Allred said she was looking forward to deposing him for the second time in a civil lawsuit she had filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court. She expects that, because of the Pennsylvania ruling, Cosby will not be able to invoke his right against self-incrimination and will be forced to answer all her questions.

Her client, Judith Huth, alleges that Cosby assaulted her at the Playboy Mansion in 1974 when she was 15. In California, the statute of limitations for filing lawsuits alleging child sexual abuse has been extended and, as Allred has said, allows for claims of recently discovered repressed psychological injury. In her 2014 lawsuit, Huth claimed she had suffered “damages that are substantial and continuing.”

The case, stayed pending resolution of Cosby’s criminal appeal, can now resume.

“Mr. Cosby,” said Allred, who has represented 33 of his accusers, “is not home free.”

Nor should he be.


Advertisement