This story is over 5 years old.


Bill Cosby Received His First Sexual Assault Charge This Morning

Weeks before the statute of limitations deadline, Pennsylvania prosecutors have brought a first-degree felony sexual assault charge against the beloved comedian, who was accused of drugging and assaulting a woman in January 2004.
Photo by Sam Santos via Getty

Update: Bill Cosby's bail was set at $1,000,000 at his arraignment on Wednesday afternoon in Elkins Park, Pa.

Earlier today Bill Cosby was charged with sexual assault. The former primetime dad has had nearly 60 accusations of sexual assault made against him in the last two years. According to CNN, Cosby is being charged with aggravated indecent assault for an alleged incident in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania in 2004.


Prosecutor Kevin Steele told NPR that the assault occurred at Cosby's home and that Cosby "is expected to appear in court to be arraigned Wednesday afternoon; [Steele] also urged any other victims to contact his office." As in the well-publicized other accusations against Cosby, this charge represents an established pattern: The alleged serial rapist is said to have drugged his victim with pills before attacking her while she were unconscious.

Read more: Helping Rape Victims Get Justice, When All the Odds Are Stacked Against Them

Kristen Houser is the chief public affairs officer for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, the leading sexual assault information organization in the United States. NSRC was founded by the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape through a cooperative agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "The way that we talk about sexual assault victimization and perpetration really matters," Houser told Broadly over the phone. "When we're looking at how this issue is covered in the press, the public at large is getting piecemeal information. They're thinking about [the issue of rape] in terms of individual cases, and not looking at it in a holistic way." Houser explains that the magnitude of the Cosby scandal has enabled the general public to believe that there is validity to the accusations and demonstrated that delayed disclosure is normal.


After Cosby denied wrongdoing earlier this year, seven of his accusers—Tamara Green, Therese Serignese, Linda Traitz, Louisa Moritz, Barbara Bowman, Joan Tarshis, and Angela Leslie—sued him for defamation. In early December, the comedian behemoth brought a defamation countersuit, claiming their accusations to be false and damaging to his reputation and career.

Because there is such broad misinformation about sexual assault, it's been hard. Many times prosecutors want a whole lot of evidence that is incontrovertible.

According to NPR, an accusation of sexual assault in the Montgomery County case was initially brought against Cosby in 2004, but the prosecutor did not bring charges. "There's always prosecutorial discretion," Houser says, explaining that prosecutors have to wager whether or not there is sufficient evidence to bring charges as well as the likelihood of success based on the community in which the crime occurred. "Because there is such broad misinformation about sexual assault, it's been hard. Many times prosecutors want a whole lot of evidence that is incontrovertible, which is often not the case because these are crimes that are committed strategically, in private, without witnesses, photographs, or anything to back it up—and that is by design, the choice of the offenders."

It was Steele, who succeeded the former Montgomery County District Attorney in November, who ensured charges were made before the statute of limitations expires in January 2016. "In Pennsylvania, if you're an adult, the state only has 12 years to pursue criminal charges [for sexual assault]," Houser says, adding that the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape would like to see the abolition of the statute of limitations for sexual assault. "It's in the best interest of public safety. When we're talking about grown adults who are perpetrating sexual assault, this is how they live their lives. It does not make sense, form a public safety perspective, that we would limit how long we have to hold them accountable."

Read more: Inside the Fight to End California's Unfair Restrictions on Reporting Rape

In 2005, Cosby testified that he bought Quaaludes with the intent of giving them to women he wanted to have sex with. That testimony was made public this summer, which Houser says changed things. "The current district attorney's office did more investigating," she says, which bolstered the case Steele is building.

"Public opinion has also shifted," Houser says. She's been doing work about sexual assault for 25 years, but it's only in the past three to five that she's noticed a marked difference in the public perception around these issues. The monolithic denial she confronted in the first 20 years of her career has begun to crack. "There's much more willingness to talk about the issue," she says. "People ask more educated questions; they're more accepting that this is a widespread, serious problem. Sad to say it took that long, but I'm glad to see the change."