On July 6, the AP reported that while testifying under oath in 2005, Bill Cosby admitted to obtaining Quaaludes, a sedative, for the purposes of giving them to young women he wanted to have sex with. He said he gave the pills to at least one woman and "other people." Cosby's deposition, from a civil case he settled with alleged sexual assault victim Andrea Constand, came to light after the AP sued to see it. In releasing the documents, federal judge Eduardo C. Robreno wrote, "The stark contrast between Bill Cosby, the public moralist and Bill Cosby, the subject of serious allegations concerning improper (and perhaps criminal) conduct, is a matter as to which the AP — and by extension the public — has a significant interest."
Like the dozens of women who've made accusations against Bill Cosby, many of whom describe the comedian as a onetime professional mentor, most victims of rape or sexual assault – 78 percent – know their assailants.
About one-third of all rape victims have been romantically involved with the offenders. At least one of the women who has come forward in the Cosby scandal, Beth Ferrier, says she and Cosby dated for six months in the mid-1980s. After she attempted to end the relationship, she says, Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted her.
Research suggests most rapists are serial rapists. In a widely-cited 2002 study by David Lisak of UMass-Boston and Paul Miller of the Brown University School of Medicine, the researchers asked over 1,800 men whether they had ever used force or attempted to use force to coerce another person into sex, or had sex with a person too intoxicated to resist. The 120 men who admitted having committed such acts said they had done so, on average, 5.8 times.
Nine states require sexual assault or rape victims to come forward within as few as three years after the crime, while others have no statute of limitations at all. Over the past 20 years, the trend has been to extend the deadline for reporting, largely because DNA forensics now mean rape can often be proved or disproved many years after an attack. New York and New Jersey, for example, where at least two of Cosby’s alleged attacks were reported, now have no criminal statutes of limitation for rape. But there are two reasons this trend won’t help the alleged Cosby victims. First, there is no physical evidence in these long-ago cases, which makes criminal prosecution nearly impossible. Second, the Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that changes in statutes of limitation are not retroactive, meaning they do not apply to crimes committed before the change went into effect.
The option of a civil suit for monetary damages is also probably closed to those accusers who haven’t already settled with Cosby. In the seven states we know of where women allege Cosby sexually assaulted them — California, New York, Colorado, Nevada, Utah, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania — victims must bring civil suits within two to three years of an alleged assault. Andrea Constand is the one alleged victim we know has settled with Cosby. She said Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted her in 2004, and she filed her civil suit against Cosby the following year. We don’t know the terms of the settlement, but Constand’s suit, which included allegations from 13 other “Jane Does” who made similar accusations against Cosby, asked for at least $150,000.
There is nothing surprising about sexual assault victims failing to come forward. More than half of rapes go unreported, according to the Justice Department. Scott Berkowitz, president of the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network, a victims’ advocacy group, says most victims come forward within the first 24 hours of an assault or not at all. As of 2009, a new provision in the Violence Against Women Act allows rape victims to request a rape kit at a hospital before deciding whether or not to take their allegations to law enforcement. “Most people who come to the hospital are in the midst of a huge trauma,” Berkowtiz says. “This gives them time and preserves the evidence that will be gone as soon as they shower. They can go home and talk about it with their families.”
While it is rare that rape allegations emerge years or even decades after the crime, an exception to that is “when there is a prominent person accused or arrested,” Berkowitz says, such as a Catholic priest, a high school teacher, or a celebrity like Jimmy Savile. Media attention on accusations against a high-profile figure may assure other victims that they are not alone, and that coming forward is both safe and an act of solidarity.