It’s been two months since New York Magazine published its feature story on 35 of Bill Cosby’s accusers, complete with striking cover image of the women seated side-by-side, next to an empty chair for those who chose not to come forward publicly. (To date, more than 50 women have accused Cosby of sexual assault.)
Thursday night, A&E aired Cosby: The Women Speak, a one-hour documentary featuring 13 of those women, seated and stoic, telling their stories – which are all the more chilling onscreen.
Here are 10 things we learned from watching the special.
1. Cosby is said to have had a particular ploy for taking advantage of young women trying to break into show business.
Several women who were at the time models hoping to become actors said on the show that Cosby invited them to privately audition for him. For instance, Heidi Thomas and Lise-Lott Lubin said Cosby asked them to act as though they were intoxicated, then expressed disapproval with their performance before offering them a drink to help them “get into character.” The women said that after the drinks, their memories became fuzzy.
2. Cosby undermined the promising careers of women comedians.
In 1969, comedy was an even more challenging field for women to break into than it is today. So it was notable when comedic actress Louisa Moritz was booked to appear on The Tonight Show. But a pre-show encounter with Cosby, who was an unscheduled guest the same night, would ruin Moritz’s recollection of the experience forever: Cosby allegedly burst into her dressing room and forced her to perform oral sex, while offering to be her manager. When it was over, she went onstage. “I must say it was the hardest job I’ve ever done,” she said. Joan Tarshis, who was an aspiring comedy writer around the same time, also said Cosby took advantage of her ambition, offering to help her break into the field, but ultimately drugging and assaulting her instead.
3. With younger women, Cosby allegedly involved and reassured their parental figures.
Heidi Thomas, who was 24 when she met Cosby, said he called her parents after inviting her to Reno, Nevada, for “mentoring.”
“I thought it was nice that he called,” said Thomas’ mother, Greta Lea Johnson. “He seemed to be intent on making sure we weren’t worried about this trip. I wondered why he was making such a point of saying, ‘Everything’s going to be fine.'”
Chelan Lasha was 17 when she met Cosby in the Eighties. He invited her to his hotel, after her aunt showed him her photo. She told A&E that he offered to introduce her to someone at the Ford modeling agency.
In both cases, when Cosby got the young women alone, he allegedly drugged and raped them.
4. Cosby allegedly committed assaults with his family close by.
Sarita Butterfield, who was working as a Playboy bunny in the Eighties, told A&E that Cosby called her, saying he’d seen her picture in Playboy and heard she was an aspiring actress. She said he then invited her to Christmas Eve dinner with his family in Massachusetts, after which he attempted to assault her in the family’s guesthouse. “His intentions were to prey on me and to assault me in his home on Christmas Eve,” she said. “That’s unbelievable.”
5. Time has done little to mitigate the women’s anguish.
Tears flowed easily for many of Cosby’s accusers, especially those who only recently came forward publicly, like Lublin, Lasha and Butterfield.
Victoria Valentino, a model who met Cosby in 1969 after losing her 6-year-old son in a drowning accident (Cosby’s own son, Ennis, was born that year), said Cosby offered her a pill to “help with the grief,” then assaulted her while she was drugged. “If there’s any question about why women don’t report rape, it’s because it’s so damned humiliating,” she said. “You don’t ever want to talk about it again.”
6. It seems Cosby had a large network of enablers.
“Elizabeth,” a flight attendant who met Cosby on an airplane, said during the special that he invited her to dinner at a Japanese restaurant and encouraged her to try his sake. She tried the drink, and reports not remembering how she wound up in Cosby’s hotel room. She said he assaulted her, and she later vomited in the Rolls Royce that was taking her home. When she apologized to the driver, he reportedly told her, “You aren’t the first.”
Eden Tirl, an actress who appeared on The Cosby Show in 1989, said Cosby called her to his dressing room, locked the door and attempted to assault her. “I cannot imagine there aren’t people that were working in and around that set that knew that something was going on,” she said.
Actor Joseph C. Phillips, the only man interviewed for the special, had this to say about working on The Cosby Show set: “I didn’t witness anything, but there was always a sense of something, and there were people whispering. This parade that would come through of beautiful women…. Something was going on. Everybody’s not auditioning.”
7. He allegedly assaulted at least one woman he had a long-term relationship with.
Beth Ferrier had a two-year consensual affair with Cosby before, she says, he drugged and assaulted her; she said that after the alleged assault, she woke up alone in the back of her car, parked in an alley. Because her memory of the experience was so clouded, she visited Cosby to ask questions, but she said it was clear she wouldn’t get answers.
8. The women don’t consider Hannibal Buress a hero.
The story of Cosby’s alleged sexual assaults took off in the media after comedian Hannibal Buress discussed them in a stand-up routine in October 2014. But the women interviewed for A&E don’t think of him as a savior. “This guy is a man. A man is making a joke about it in his stand-up routine, and suddenly everybody believes him?” Valentino said.
Tirl agreed, saying, “There were many, many, many women that had come forward long before this comedian had said anything, so I think that’s bullshit” to suggest he’s their white knight.
9. Lise-Lotte Lublin successfully lobbied to amend Nevada’s statute of limitation for sexual assault cases.
This May, in apparent response to the emerging Cosby allegations, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval signed a bill extending from four years to 20 years Nevada’s statute of limitations for the criminal prosecution of sexual assault. Five women, including Lublin, have alleged that Cosby assaulted them in the state. The new statute goes into effect October 1.
10. Despite the number of women who’ve come forward, their credibility is still being called into question.
Tarshis said that just two weeks before the A&E taping, she was confronted on the street. “A woman drove by and spit at me and called me a liar, which really shook me up,” she said, tearfully. “Nobody likes to be called a liar [or] spit at, especially when you’re not lying. Why would I lie? That’s not what I want my legacy to be.” All the women in the special said the courage of other victims coming forward emboldened them to tell their own stories.