In 2004, when Andrea Constand filed a lawsuit against Bill Cosby for sexual assault, her lawyers asked me to testify. Cosby had drugged and raped me, too, I told them. The lawyers said I could testify anonymously as a Jane Doe, but I ardently rejected that idea. My name is not Jane Doe. My name is Barbara Bowman, and I wanted to tell my story in court. In the end, I didn’t have the opportunity to do that, because Cosby settled the suit for an undisclosed amount of money.
Over the years, I’ve struggled to get people to take my story seriously. So last month, when reporter Lycia Naff contacted me for an interview for the Daily Mail, I gave her a detailed account. I told her how Cosby won my trust as a 17-year-old aspiring actress in 1985, brainwashed me into viewing him as a father figure, and then assaulted me multiple times. In one case, I blacked out after having dinner and one glass of wine at his New York City brownstone, where he had offered to mentor me and discuss the entertainment industry. When I came to, I was in my panties and a man’s t-shirt, and Cosby was looming over me. I’m certain now that he drugged and raped me. But as a teenager, I tried to convince myself I had imagined it. I even tried to rationalize it: Bill Cosby was going to make me a star and this was part of the deal. The final incident was in Atlantic City, where we had traveled for an industry event. I was staying in a separate bedroom of Cosby’s hotel suite, but he pinned me down in his own bed while I screamed for help. I’ll never forget the clinking of his belt buckle as he struggled to pull his pants off. I furiously tried to wrestle from his grasp until he eventually gave up, angrily called me “a baby” and sent me home to Denver.
(UPDATE: On Dec. 30, 2015, Cosby was charged with sexual assault for a crime he allegedly committed in 2004.)
Back then, the incident was so horrifying that I had trouble admitting it to myself, let alone to others. But I first told my agent, who did nothing. (Cosby sometimes came to her office to interview people for “The Cosby Show” and other acting jobs.) A girlfriend took me to a lawyer, but he accused me of making the story up. Their dismissive responses crushed any hope I had of getting help; I was convinced no one would listen to me. That feeling of futility is what ultimately kept me from going to the police. I told friends what had happened, and although they sympathized with me, they were just as helpless to do anything about it. I was a teenager from Denver acting in McDonald’s commercials. He was Bill Cosby: consummate American dad Cliff Huxtable and the Jell-O spokesman. Eventually, I had to move on with my life and my career.
I didn’t stay entirely quiet, though: I’ve been telling my story publicly for nearly 10 years. When Constand brought her lawsuit, I found renewed confidence. I was determined to not be silent any more. In 2006, I was interviewed by Robert Huber for Philadelphia Magazine, and Alycia Lane for KYW-TV news in Philadelphia. A reporter wrote about my experience in the December 2006 issue of People Magazine. And last February, Katie Baker interviewed me for Newsweek. Bloggers and columnists wrote about that story for several months after it was published. Still, my complaint didn’t seem to take hold.
Only after a man, Hannibal Buress, called Bill Cosby a rapist in a comedy act last month did the public outcry begin in earnest. The original video of Buress’s performance went viral. This week, Twitter turned against him, too, with a meme that emblazoned rape scenarios across pictures of his face.
While I am grateful for the new attention to Cosby’s crimes, I must ask my own questions: Why wasn’t I believed? Why didn’t I get the same reaction of shock and revulsion when I originally reported it? Why was I, a victim of sexual assault, further wronged by victim blaming when I came forward? The women victimized by Bill Cosby have been talking about his crimes for more than a decade. Why didn’t our stories go viral?
Unfortunately, our experience isn’t unique. The entertainment world is rife with famous men who use their power to victimize and then silence young women who look up to them. Even when their victims speak out, the industry and the public turn blind eyes; these men’s celebrity, careers, and public adulation continue to thrive. Even now, Cosby has a new comedy special coming out on Netflix and NBC is set to give him a new sitcom.
Fixing this problem demands more than public shaming. For Cosby to commit these assaults against multiple victims over several years, there had to be a network of willfully blind wallflowers at best, or people willing to aid him in committing these sexual crimes at worst. As I told the Daily Mail, when I was a teenager, his assistants transported me to hotels and events to meet him. When I blacked out at Cosby’s home, there were several staffers with us. My agent, who introduced me to Cosby, had me take a pregnancy test when I returned from my last trip with him. Talent agents, hotel staff, personal assistants and others who knowingly made arrangements for Cosby’s criminal acts or overlooked them should be held equally accountable.
I have never received any money from Bill Cosby and have not asked for it. I have nothing to gain by continuing to speak out. He can no longer be charged for his crimes against me because the statute of limitations is long past. That is also wrong. There should be no time limits on reporting these crimes, and one of my goals is to call for legislation to that end. Famous and wealthy perpetrators use their power to shame and silence their victims. It often takes years for young women to overcome those feeling and gain the confidence to come forward (by which point physical evidence is long gone). Our legal system shouldn’t silence them a second time.
Last week, I became a volunteer ambassador for PAVE (Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment), a national victim advocacy group that seeks to shatter the silence around sexual violence through targeted social, educational and legislative tactics. I will be writing and traveling the country talking to media, students and other interested groups about the importance of speaking out against sexual assault. I’ll largely focus on young models and actors who are especially vulnerable to the influences of the rich and powerful. They, like other sexual assault victims, deserve our support. It’s the perpetrators who should be facing public humiliation – not the victims.
Editor’s note: A representative for Bill Cosby did not return multiple calls and e-mails from Washington Post staff for comment on this piece. Elsewhere, Cosby repeatedly denied separate sexual-assault allegations by Andrea Constand.
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