In the past two years, nearly 60 women have come forward and accused Bill Cosby of drugging and raping them. At this point, the nature of their allegations is widely known: that Cosby offered them pills and then sexually abused them while they were unconscious. (In a 2005 deposition, Cosby testified that he purchased Quaaludes with the intent of giving them to women he wanted to have sex with.)
Some of his alleged victims say they were afraid to come out until now; others had been trying for years to share their stories, only to have them ignored or intentionally overlooked by major media outlets. In November 2015, seven of Cosby's accusers—Tamara Green, Therese Serignese, Linda Traitz, Louisa Moritz, Barbara Bowman, Joan Tarshis, and Angela Leslie—sued him for defamation, accusing him of falsely claiming that they were lying about being abused by him. Because the statute of limitations has expired on their cases, they cannot sue him directly for sexual assault.
Yesterday, in a lawsuit, Cosby countersued, claiming that the seven women have defamed him. "Mr. Cosby states plainly that he neither drugged nor sexually assaulted the defendants and that each defendant has maliciously and knowingly published multiple false statements...in an effort to cause damage to Mr. Cosby's reputation and to extract financial gains," wrote Cosby's lawyer, Monique Pressley, in a statement. Previously, Cosby's legal team claimed that dismissing the accusations against Cosby as "ridiculous claims" and "absurd fabrications" is protected under the First Amendment.
According to the countersuit, these seven women have "proximately caused and continue to cause Mr. Cosby to suffer substantial injuries and damages," including "tarnish of reputation and public image," "cancellation of pending contracts," and "shame, mortification, [and] hurt feelings" by coming forward with their accounts. (As more and more of his accusers have spoken out publicly, numerous companies and organizations have cut ties with Cosby—including NBC and Netflix, as well as several colleges at which Cosby held honorary degrees.)
He changed the course of my life. He made me a victim. I felt powerless.
Though Cosby cites loss of work, shame, humiliation, and hurt feelings, it's worth noting that many of the women Cosby is countersuing have said they were reluctant to come forward at first due to feelings of shame or fear of professional ruin. For example, Therese Serignese, who says she was 19 when she met Cosby, told People in November 2014, "He hurt me. He changed the course of my life. He made me a victim. I felt powerless." And Louisa Moritz told TMZ in the same month that Cosby forced his penis into her mouth in the green room at NBC studios in 1971. As he left, she claims, he said, "Now you don't want to upset me and the plans for your future, do you?" Joan Tarshis, who says she was an aspiring 19-year-old comedy writer when she first met Cosby and has accused the actor of drugging and orally raping her, told People that she felt "sickened, embarrassed, humiliated" after the assault. "I was scared," she added.
Tamara Green, another alleged victim named in Cosby's suit, first spoke to Newsweek in February of 2014; she says that she met him when she was a 19-year-old model and that he sexually assaulted after giving her two pills at a lunch. "I was 19 and he was king of the world," she told Newsweek when asked why she didn't report the alleged assault. "Nobody would've believed me." She first went public with her story in 2004, an action she described as "a career ender." Barbara Bowman, another complainant, spoke to Broadly in November of 2014 as well; like Green, she also went public in 2004. Like many of Cosby's other accusers, she said she was 19 and hoping to enter the entertainment industry—as an actress—when she first met Cosby. According to her account, Cosby repeatedly drugged and assaulted her throughout their professional relationship. When she tried to speak up after the first assault, she said, her allegations "just went away. I was laughed out of the attorney's office, and my agent didn't believe me. I felt completely crushed. I felt alone. I thought, 'Nobody is ever, ever going to believe me.'"
I felt alone. I thought, 'Nobody is ever, ever going to believe me.'
There are several reasons that a victim of sexual assault might be hesitant to speak out publicly about his or her experience—all of which are exacerbated when the alleged assailant is a household name. "When the perpetrator is somebody who is well known or well respected, [victims] face a number of additional barriers: people more publicly criticizing them, [attacking] their character," Jennifer Marsh, the vice president of victim services at the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), told Broadly in a phone interview. "People oftentimes will try to pick apart their credibility or their account of what happened. It happens on a much larger scale than if the perpetrator is relatively unknown."
And, as Marsh further noted, "the fact that [celebrities] have the money to have vast legal resources at their disposal is certainly something that can be intimidating and a deterrent to speaking publicly." This fear, it seems, is founded: Joseph Cammarata, who represents the seven women who filed the first defamation suit against Cosby, called the countersuit "expected." He told USA Today, "It's curious to me how there can be scores of other ladies who have come out, and yet Mr. Cosby has singled out seven of them to bring a claim against. It seems a bit retaliatory to me."
Marsh hopes that Cosby's aggressive legal team won't deter other survivors from speaking out. "It can be discouraging or disheartening to survivors to see this," she said. "It's important to reiterate in general the public support for the victims has been overwhelming. That's something that I think is hopeful."