America is currently experiencing with Bill Cosby what I want to call a “Savile” moment. Namely, the point where historic hearsay about a well-loved man – so disturbing and unpalatable that no one wants to believe it – has gathered voice to the point it is impossible to ignore.
Cosby, aka Dr Cliff Huxtable – that zany, warm, approachable man who brightened up a billion 1980s childhoods – is accused of using this god-like influence for highly nefarious means. Cosby’s remaining fans – he appeared on stage at the weekend – and his very vocal attorney, Martin D Singer, point to the fact that the accusations are historic, and therefore somehow laughable. Because, say the fans, who wouldn’t report a sexual assault instantly? So why now? For the money, of course! I’ve heard this neat and, to my mind, unconvincing reply a hundred times in recent years, as women have begun to wage war on historic abuses of male power.
I find it interesting that my generational elders – here and it seems Stateside too – will fall over themselves to admit how things these days “ain’t wot they used to be”, and how notions of sexism, shame, secrecy and deference to power have now changed for the better. But then the very same people will often refuse to see that these bygone social attitudes led to a whole lot of hidden abuse.
“Why speak up about your abuse now if not for the cash?” they parrot, while being fully aware that a young girl in the 1970s who accused any very famous man of assault would most likely be ignored, castigated for causing trouble, accused of being a temptress, or have the details taken patiently and then placed in the bin.
Interestingly, Cosby first faced a possible trial in 2006 over an alleged assault on a woman called Andrea Constand. Thirteen other women heard the story, recognised details of drugging and sexual assault common to their alleged experiences, often from long ago, and agreed to testify.
Bill Cosby: Career in pictures
Bill Cosby: Career in pictures
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Winner of his first Emmy for 'I Spy' is Bill Cosby being congratulated by his wife Camille held at Americana Hotel, 1966
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Bill Cosby in 'I Spy', 1960s
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Bill Cosby in July 1973 in Perth
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Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor in 'California Suite', 1978
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Bill Cosby and Elmo in Sesame Street, 1989
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Bill Cosby poses for a picture with Florence Griffith-Joyner in June 1989
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Comedian Bill Cosby back in 1992
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A scene from a 1992 episode of 'The Cosby Show'
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US Monica Seles breaks into laughter as she jokes with comedian Bill Cosby during a celebrity match in the stadium at the US Open for the Arthur Ashe AIDS Challenge on 27 August 1995
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Bill Cosby meets Toronto Blue Jays' All-Star Joe Carter after the Stars played the Stripes in the Celebrity All-Star game which preceded workouts for the 67th All-Star Game at Veterans Stadium on 8 July 1996 in Philadephia
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Co-hosts Oprah Winfrey and Bill Cosby joke with each other during the opening of the 2000 Essence Awards 14 April 2000 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City
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Bill Cosby jokes with baseball great Hank Aaron after they both received the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award from U.S. President George W. Bush during a ceremony on 9 July 2002 at the White House in Washington
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Bill Cosby poses backstage after winning the 'Bob Hope Humanitarian Award' during the 55th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at the Shrine Auditorium on 21 September 2003 in Los Angeles
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'Tonight Show' host Jay Leno and comedian Bill Cosby laugh during a surprise visit by Cosby to sign a Harley-Davidson motorcycle that Leno is using to raise money for the victims of Hurricane Katrina at NBC studios on 9 September 2005 in Burbank, California
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Bill Cosby speaks during a taping of 'Meet the Press' at the NBC studios on 14 October 2007 in Washington
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Bill Cosby at the 12th annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at the John F. Kennedy Center on 26 October 2009 in Washington
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Bill Cosby speaks at the National Action Network's 20th annual Keepers of the Dream Awards gala in New York on 6 April 2011
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Bill Cosby during the 100th anniversary celebration of the Beverly Hills Hotel & Bungalows supporting the Motion Picture & Television Fund and the American Comedy Fund, 2012
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Bill Cosby speaks onstage at the Thurgood Marshall College Fund 25th Awards Gala on 11 November 2013 in Washington
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Bill Cosby performs at the Treasure Island Hotel & Casino on 26 September 2014 in Las Vegas
These included a former trial attorney Tamara Green, who said in a recent Newsweek interview: “A lawyer told me I would be crazy to come out after 20 years and accuse him. But I waited and waited to see who would back this girl up, and nobody else would. The Cosby team started smearing her, making her seem petty and loose and cheap.”
After Green’s alleged assault aged 19, she recalls Cosby making a star appearance at the terminal cancer wing that her brother resided in. “By the time I got to the hospital, my brother was glowing that the great Bill Cosby had given him a portable radio,” she says.
When the Constand vs Cosby trial was settled out of court and the stories of the 13 other women – as far as Cosby was concerned – silenced, it’s important to note that Tamara Green’s legal career was over.
“It was,” she says, “a career-ender when I came forward. All my clients were suddenly interested in was whether I was a liar, or a former hooker, or a philanderer. People want their lawyers to be serious-minded intellectuals, honest and honourable people. It casts a shadow on your character if you dare to attack one of these icons.”
Green’s story is just a footnote in the lengthy allegations against Bill Cosby, but it’s also crucial to any modern comprehension of why women sit on rape allegations for decades, or never speak up.
Cosby’s behaviour over recent months, as stories have resurfaced – as more women, including Janice Dickinson, a model and TV host, have offered similar allegations of drugging and abuse – is fascinating. Footage appeared last week of the comic actor being tackled, very lightly it must be said, by the Associated Press on fresh accusations. Cosby simply responds: “We don’t speak about that,” before making loaded comments about the reporter’s integrity and insinuating that his people will be calling the journalist’s boss to encourage more quashing of this unacceptable event, and finally adding to offending hack, “If you want to consider yourself to be serious, then it won’t appear anywhere.”
Cosby’s rather impotent fury, to me, seemed like the final pathetic roars of a man who for a very long time always got exactly what he wanted – without challenge. I’m sure the penny is starting to drop for Bill Cosby that, in 2014, it’s not that easy to shut the world up.Reuse content