The Collective

Janice Dickinson had had enough.

The former model and reality-show regular was on the stand testifying that in Lake Tahoe in 1982, Bill Cosby raped her in his hotel room. In her memoir No Lifeguard on Duty, she had mentioned an encounter between them but said nothing about having sex, only that Cosby had slammed a door in her face after she told him she was exhausted. Cosby’s chief defense attorney, Tom Mesereau, was zeroing in. Why didn’t she tell the rape story in her memoir, if it were true? Had she lied in her own memoir to make money?

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“I don’t lie, sir,” Dickinson said. “Don’t call me a liar.”

Mesereau kept pushing: “You tell a completely different story in your book. You say in this book you didn’t have sex with him at all.”

Dickinson didn’t skip a beat: “I wasn’t under oath when I wrote that book.”

Mesereau brought up her partying at Studio 54 in its heyday as a coke den, and that she had once had Sylvester Stallone take a paternity test, before Mesereau circled back to the worst sin, that she made up parts of her own story in print simply to cash in.

That was enough.

So what?” Dickinson said, staring at Mesereau. Her point, and anger, were obvious. These episodes in her life, the way she lived, what she may have said about it, had nothing to do with what Bill Cosby did to her: “He raped me in Tahoe.”

Janice Dickinson on the stand at the trial.

Illustration by Christine Cornell

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Two things had changed when Bill Cosby was brought to trial once again in April and found guilty of sexual assault. The #MeToo movement—comprised of a large number of women coming together via social media to say no more to sexual harassment and abuse—had risen. And five women were allowed to testify that Cosby had done the same thing to them that Andrea Constand said he did to her in January 2004 inside his home near Philadelphia. (At last year’s trial, only one woman—largely discredited in cross-examination—testified that she, like Constand, had been drugged and molested by Cosby.)

These episodes in her life, the way she lived, what she may have said about it, had nothing to do with what Bill Cosby did to her: “He raped me in Tahoe.”

Constand, the plaintiff in both trials, told the same story this time around as last year. She claimed Cosby drugged her to the point where she was incapacitated, and she could not stop him from sexually assaulting her. The five other women were all quite different in personality and in the way they told their stories, but the stories they told were the same: Cosby drugged and sexually molested them, too.

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Cosby’s defense attacked the women—they were after money or fame, or they were just plain lying; their lives, the lawyers pointed out, were a mess of past sins. The defense went hard after the age-old notion that if the accusers were flawed, their stories of abuse must be false as well. But as Constand stood firm against the idea that she had concocted her story about Cosby in order to get rich—he settled her lawsuit against him to the tune of $ 3.4 million in 2006—the five other women could not be broken either.

The collective of women had been coming on for some time. We just didn’t want to know it.

In 2005, Andrea Constand, who worked for Temple University in Philadelphia as an administrator for the women’s basketball program and had befriended Cosby, a Temple alumnus and major booster for the school, filed a civil complaint against him in federal court. Thirteen women heard about the suit and came forward anonymously and willing to testify, many of them claiming they’d experienced a similar drug-and-fondling situation with Cosby. Three of those 13 women talked to the PhiladelphiaDaily News, telling their stories and dropping their anonymity.

Cosby speaks to the Class of 2003 at Temple University’s commencement ceremony.

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But then Andrea Constand settled her suit with Cosby, which included a gag order not to speak about it, and despite those 13 other women with stories of their own, no one seemed interested. I and a few other journalists who wrote about the Cosby accusers in 2006 waited for the fallout. Nothing happened. No one seemed willing to consider that Dr. Huxtable, the folksy patriarch of upper middle-class black family values, was a sexual predator.

Bill Cosby went right on performing and being Bill Cosby.

Kristina Ruehli


In fact, he’d had that freedom since he was young.

In 1965, a 22-year-old secretary at a talent agency named Kristina Ruehli would eventually claim that after two drinks at the Los Angeles house of Bill Cosby—the 28-year-old star of the espionage show I Spy—she passed out, then late that night woke up, naked in bed with Cosby as he tried to force his penis into her mouth. She managed to scramble up and leave, and go to work that morning.

But something strange happened at the talent agency. Ruehli tried to ask the other secretaries why they had turned down the invitation to Cosby’s house, but none of them, she said, would even acknowledge the question. Eventually, Ruehli understood why: It was too dangerous. Whatever happened at Bill Cosby’s would reflect on all of them. So no one said a word.

In 1969, an aspiring writer named Joan Tarshis would later claim that Cosby gave her a cocktail in his bungalow on the set of his next TV series; she passed out and woke to Cosby making her perform oral sex on him. Tarshis told me last year she believed that if she came forward to claim that Cosby had molested her, he would simply have her killed. “That I would end up at the bottom of a canyon in L.A.,” she said, “and that no one would ever know who did it.” For almost half a century, Tarshis kept quiet.

Joan Tarshis

Matt Moyer For The Washington Post via Getty Images

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Reuhli and Tarshis, who both came forward with their stories in 2014, say they were two of his earliest victims. The five women who testified at his second trial last month all place their encounters with Cosby in the mid ’80s. By then, he had become even richer and more famous, with a shiny image promoting Jell-O and Ford on TV. Four of the five women were aspiring models or actresses whom Cosby contacted through their agents. He wanted to help, to give career advice. A meeting would be set up. None of these women had any effective way to address what they say happened next. And once The Cosby Show entered America’s living rooms in 1984, Cosby breathed rarefied air.

But he couldn’t stay free and clear. A lawyer named Tamara Green, one of the three accusers who shared her story with the Daily News in ’05 of being drugged and molested by Cosby back in the ’70s, told me in 2014 why she was sure the accusations would reemerge: “Because he’s so arrogant.” That he would keep operating as “Bill Cosby”—with the assurance of his own grand importance, which would eventually bring him down.

Comedian Hannibal Buress.

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Green was right. A comic named Hannibal Buress, performing at the Trocadero in Philadelphia in late 2014, invited his audience to check out Cosby on Google to verify something: Cosby, he said, was a rapist. Buress was clearly angry that Cosby had the nerve to tell young black comics how to properly comport themselves on stage, despite what terrible things he may have done to women.

Buress’ takedown of Dr. Huxtable took off on social media. Now, it was impossible to ignore the allegations. Barbara Bowman, who’d been an aspiring actress in the ’80s when she was, she claims, sexually molested by Cosby, wondered, “Why wasn’t I believed? Why didn’t I get the same reaction of shock and revulsion when I originally reported it?”

Maybe, by this time, we were a little more willing to hear what women were saying about him, if only because a man had opened the door.

At any rate, a collective of almost 60 women with stories was born in a big way, and Bill Cosby’s career was, for all intents and purposes, over.

Two things happened at Bill Cosby’s first trial against Andrea Constand last summer that decided the outcome.

One was that Cosby himself was present throughout but did not utter one word to the jury. He came alive only through his earlier interviews—by the police in 2005 regarding the alleged molestation of Constand at his home the year before, and in the unsealed deposition in Constand’s civil suit in ’05. This was not the Bill Cosby any of the jurors had known through his public persona, to say the least. The charmer, the funnyman, sat on the other side of the courtroom, his face a dour mask, unable even to see the jurors. (Cosby is legally blind.) His silence was a huge danger for the defense.

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Andrea Constand on the stand at the trial.

Illustration by Christine Cornell

For what emerged wasn’t pretty. In those earlier statements, Cosby said there were four sexual encounters with Constand in his home in Elkins Park. He touched her bare midriff, and her butt. He seemed to be working toward more. He spoke of one encounter—months before her alleged drugging and molestation—when he put his fingers in her vagina and then waited. “I’m giving Andrea a chance to say yes or no in an area that’s right there in the question zone,” he said. She didn’t stop him, Cosby said, and he continued, believing that she had an orgasm. Which, he said, gave both of them “a glow.”

Was the defense going to risk putting him on the stand to be cross-examined by the prosecution about that?

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Yet even in describing romancing Constand to see how far he could get, Cosby the storyteller came through: “We had some petting and touching of private parts. Clothing is on. We got up two steps, which puts us in the hallway. We stop and I lift the front of her shirt and lift her bra, freeing her breast. This was the first time I put my lips to her breast and she said stop. I put the brassiere down and stopped and we walked to the exit.”

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Sitting in the courtroom listening to that statement from 2005, I was struck by its veracity, as pathetic and maybe sick as it may have been. Listening—“I go to the place between permission and rejection”—it was impossible not to get momentarily lulled. His story had the audacity and detail and even openness of plausibility. He came across as a predator, chasing what he wanted. But that didn’t make him a criminal, not yet. He seemed, sad to say, real.

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In that first trial, Constand—tall, slim, with the angular stride of the athlete she was—sat perched high on the witness stand with an awesome plume of unruly red-brown hair. She was polite and held her own throughout a long cross-examination, never wavering from her view of Cosby as a mentor and her conviction that she was drugged with three blue pills Cosby had given her and molested by him one night in his home.

But Constand was fighting a very different battle from Cosby’s, and that was the second noteworthy aspect of the first trial. He could use the messiness and even darkness of old-man-goes-after-young-woman to his advantage, given that that’s not a crime. She, however, was vulnerable to being judged in the time-honored way women have always been, when it comes to sexual abuse: Her behavior before and after—and memory of that behavior—were open to pointed questions. Why did she initially say her assault happened in March 2004, then place it in January? Why did she keep in contact with Cosby? Perhaps it was, as Cosby’s attorney claimed, “a romantic interlude that they’d been having for a year. Why are we running from the truth of this case, of this relationship? Why?

Perhaps Andrea Constand was lying. The trial ended in a hung jury.

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The second trial of Andrea Constand versus Bill Cosby included the same questions and testimony, in many ways, as the first trial. But instead of framing Constand as a young woman pulled into a romance with a famous man practically old enough to be her grandfather, the defense tried a different tack: to paint her as a money-grubbing schemer out for a big payday—“a pathological liar,” as defense attorney Tom Mesereau called her in his closing argument.

The defense tried various gambits to undermine just what she was all about. How she had supposedly been part of an online pyramid scheme, how she had worn a sweater Cosby had given her to his house (Mesereau went to some pains to say how Kathleen Bliss, his co-defense lawyer, pointed out what a powerful signal Constand was intentionally sending to Cosby), how she had lain on a bed with him in a hotel at a gaming resort. What’s more, the defense had a potentially game-changing witness, likely the reason they pivoted to a new strategy: a Temple academic advisor named Maugerite Jackson, who testified that she had roomed with Constand when the basketball team went on the road in 2004, and that Constand told her about a plan to sue a famous, well-heeled man; she would claim that he had molested her and get a big payout. But Constand denied or deflected all of the above and more.

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He came across as a predator, chasing what he wanted. But that didn’t make him a criminal, not yet.

She came across, mostly, as ordinary and believable, much as she had in the first trial. It is hard to remember anything she said, exactly, for she answered questions quietly, and did not elaborate. When pressed by Mesereau on what she was really up to, she answered, “I am here for justice” —and even that came across quietly, earnestly.

But now there was something more, which made the second trial a few days longer: The five women allowed to testify that the same thing had happened to them. That Andrea Constand wasn’t alone.

There was a sweet irony in the testimony of Constand’s fellow accusers. They were able to tell their stories in the face of their own flaws—flaws worked over by the defense, naturally—and their stories gained power because of their humanness. Cosby coming alive in the first trial as a predatory old man on the make looked even worse in this brave new era, because of what powerful men, especially, have gotten away with for so long. That’s one notable effect of #MeToo, and it gave the testifiers confidence. It also made Janice Dickinson, who has lived a life, quite real.

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And that is why she turned out to be the prosecution’s star.

Dickinson was already a successful model, back in the early ’80s, when word came via her agent that Bill Cosby wanted to mentor her. She flew to Lake Tahoe, where Cosby was performing at Harrah’s. Dickinson said she had dinner with Cosby and Stu Gardner (who would write music for The Cosby Show), drank some red wine, and started to get menstrual cramps. Cosby, she says, told her, “I have something for that.” He gave her a blue pill. She soon felt “woozy and dizzy” and “slightly out of it.”

She and Cosby, Dickinson testified, went back to his hotel room, where she sat on the edge of his bed; Dickinson took photos of Cosby talking on the phone—shared with the jury—wearing a multicolored checked robe, a brown velvet cap, and wire-rim glasses; he looked like a cross between a cartoon character and a carnival barker.

Janice Dickinson walks through the Montgomery County Courthouse during the trial.

Mark Makela/Getty Images

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“When I spoke I didn’t feel words coming out,” Dickinson testified. “I wanted to say we weren’t discussing my career.”

Suddenly, Cosby was standing in front of her with his bathrobe open, then climbing on top of Dickinson and raping her, she claimed.

“He smelled like cigars and espresso and his body odor,” she testified. “I couldn’t move. I felt like I was rendered motionless. I was thinking, ‘What the fuck … ?’ Sorry. ‘What the heck is he doing?’ I was just in shock. I didn’t consent to this. I hadn’t said ‘Yes.’”

The next morning, she woke up in her hotel room and looked down to see semen between her legs. She felt anal pain, and examined herself with a mirror: “I could see I was very, very sore,” Dickinson testified. Later that day, she went to a house owned by Harrah’s with Cosby and confronted him there: “I remember saying, ‘You’re married. How did this happen? Why did you do it?’ I wanted to hit him. I wanted to punch him in the face. I can remember feeling anger. Disgust. Humiliated. Ashamed.”

“I wanted to hit him. I wanted to punch him in the face. I can remember feeling anger. Disgust. Humiliated. Ashamed.”

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She didn’t report the assault, Dickinson said, because she had conservative clients—including Vogue and Revlon—who “would not appreciate that I’d been raped.”

None of this reflected badly on Dickinson. Tom Mesereau tried to go that route by targeting her partying at Studio 54, and Sylvester Stallone, and the lies in her own memoir. But she held her own.

At the end of her testimony, Dickinson seemed confused by Judge O’Neill telling her she was subject to recall to the stand. He reassured Dickinson that it was his job to advise her about that.

“I think you’ve been great,” she blurted as the courtroom burst into laughter and the judge turned red.

Law & Order is my favorite program,” she added before stepping down.

Chelan Lasha, another of the five witnesses, who claimed that Cosby drugged and molested her in a Las Vegas hotel room in 1986 when she was 17, brought a very different brand of authenticity, sobbing openly in the courtroom before and after her testimony. At one point, at the beginning of a break for lunch, she looked right at Cosby, sitting 20 feet away, and practically shouted, “You remember, don’t you, Mr. Cosby?

Cosby smiled.

Janice Baker-Kinney walks towards the courtroom to testify in the Montgomery County Courthouse.

Mark Makela/Getty Images

None of them backed down. Janice Baker-Kinney, a broadcast stage manager who lives near San Francisco, was working as a casino bartender at Harrah’s in Reno in 1982; she was 24 years old. Cosby was performing there, and a friend of Baker-Kinney’s invited her to a pizza party at the house where Cosby was staying. When they got there, the party was just the three of them.

Cosby offered Baker-Kinney a Quaalude, she testified, then another. “Take two of them,” Cosby told her. “It’ll be okay.”

Baker-Kinney soon passed out, face-planting into a backgammon board, and woke up the next morning, naked in bed with Cosby.

She testified that there was “a sticky wetness between my legs” and that it felt like she’d had sex the night before. Regardless, “I apologized to Mr. Cosby because I was so mortified that I had passed out.” As she left the house, Cosby blocked the door for a moment and said, “Now this is just between you and me,” she testified.

For 30 years, Baker-Kinney blamed herself for what had happened. But eventually she came to understand, she said, that she had been raped.

Mesereau worked hard to portray Baker-Kinney as a party girl who loved to drink and take drugs. She didn’t flinch. At one point during cross-examination she was incredulous at his rudeness: “Are you rolling your eyes at me?” she asked him.

“Yes,” Mesereau said.

Yet even in that atmosphere, Baker-Kinney was willing to share how hard that long-ago episode in Reno was for her: “It makes me angry, the thing that I’m carrying, which is I know now that while it was a stupid choice, I didn’t do anything really wrong. But in the back, very deep in the back of my head, what I’m always going to carry is a tiny bit of doubt that I could have changed those circumstances by not accepting those pills. … I have to carry that guilt and shame that I participated in what was done to me.”

In the end, it was Janice Dickinson’s resounding “So what?” in the face of a defense alleging that she lived a certain sort of life that captured the overriding mood in the courtroom. (Cosby’s defense team will appeal the guilty verdict.) For the first time, the shared stories of what these women say Bill Cosby did to them—not how they were supposed to behave as young women—actually became the point. The rest of their lives were interesting, and admirable, and sometimes laughable—as all lives are—and also irrelevant, finally, to the crime in question.

Bill Cosby, when he operated in the arena of high fame and big money, was doing what he did to something less: these girls, his playthings. The idea that they really didn’t matter was defeated, not just in the court of public opinion, but in a court of law. The women spoke, and they were heard. And that was brand new.

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Lifestyle – Esquire

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