Culture

35 Of Bill Cosby’s Alleged Victims Have Shared Their Full Stories In A Devastating ‘New York Mag’ Cover Feature

"We can’t be disappeared."

This post discusses sexual assault.

As those in the entertainment industry continue to draw attention to his ongoing allegations of sexual assault, and his own legal testimony casts worrying questions over his supposed innocence, things aren’t going too well for Bill Cosby. Though he hasn’t been charged with any of the crimes he’s been accused of, the number of women who claim he has assaulted them over the last four decades has grown exponentially and their accounts have been objectively horrific.

Now, in an attempt to portray the sheer volume of these allegations and the struggles his accusers have faced (both before and after coming forward), New York Magazine has collated and published individual testimony from 35 of his alleged victims. The women also sat for a number of striking and resolute portraits with photographer Amanda Demme; they sit side by side on the cover, which will be released tomorrow morning in the US.

Ranging from their early 20s to 80 years old, the women — who are among the 46 publicly accusing Cosby of sexual assault — have remarkably similar accounts. Most openly speak of the respect and admiration they felt for him before the assault, the presence of some kind of drug or drink that made them feel disoriented, and the overarching fear and shame they suffered long after.

The women alleging assaults that took place in the 60s and 70s particularly attest to a culture in which they had no support system or broader awareness of their rights.

“I didn’t realise that I had been raped,” said journalist Joan Tashis. “Back then, rape was done in an alleyway with somebody holding a knife to your throat that you didn’t know. There was no date rape back then. I just knew that something horrible had happened … The difference between this and that rape in the dark alley is that his face would be before me every week on TV.”

“In 1975, it wasn’t an issue that was even discussed,” said model Marcella Tate. “I understood at the time that it was wrong, but I just internalised it and dealt with it and pushed it down, and it resided in a very private place. It affects your trust with other people.”

Disturbingly, most women also cite explicit external pressures that stopped them from ever pressing charges. Former Playboy bunny PJ Masten attests she was told to keep quiet because Cosby was a good friend of Hugh Hefner; actress Barbara Bowman said she feared the public backlash because he was “America’s favourite dad”; attorney Tamara Green claimed that in 2005, “Bill still had control of the media”. “In 2015, we have social media,” she said. “We can’t be disappeared. It’s online and can never go away.”

This idea is discussed at length in the accompanying essay by New York writer Noreen Malone as she cites the way the media has dealt with accusations in previous decades. After former basketball player Andrea Constand settled a civil sexual assault suit against Cosby, The National Enquirer were scheduled to run a story about her case but pulled it when given a big exclusive with Cosby himself, who denied everything. The resultant article led her to sue the publication for defamation.

After many similar incidents, a number of the alleged victims expressed frustration that it was a throwaway bit in a stand-up set from Hannibal Buress that finally caught the public’s attention.

“You know, a woman can be not believed for 30 years,” said former Playboy bunny Victoria Valentio. “But it takes one man? To make a joke about it? That fucking pissed me off so bad.”

It’s this that makes the piece so powerful. Though many of their alleged assaults are now unable to be brought to trial due to the statute of limitation, the women are putting their own stories forward and reclaiming the public space they previously felt locked out from. Extraordinarily, six of the alleged victims even do this on camera. 

You can read the full piece and navigate each woman’s testimony here. It will make you feel absolutely terrible, but it’s Pulitzer Prize-standard work and it’s better to hear it from them than from Hannibal Buress or Judd Apatow.

Feature image via New York Magazine/Amanda Demme.