At the beginning of tonight's one-hour A&E special, Cosby: The Women Speak, the voice-over relays a story about a sketch from the comedian's early career. It's a short one, known as "Spanish Fly," in which Cosby jokes about how — as a 13-year-old boy — he heard about this magical substance that would make women woozy.
"There’s this girl, Crazy Mary. You put some in her drink, man, and she’s —" Cosby's sentence devolves into a growl of ecstasy. For the rest of the bit, Cosby talks about his quest to obtain Spanish Fly and drug women with it.
In the late '60s, when Cosby was at the beginning of his meteoric rise, his reputation still sterling, maybe this bit was funny. But decades later, after dozens of allegations of sexual molestation and assault have come to light, it seems less like a joke than a chilling foreshadowing of what was to come.
We've seen many of the women in this special speak before, most recently in New York magazine this summer. But, watching their accounts of the alleged sexual abuse unfurl, one after the next in chronological order, mirroring Cosby's rise in the public eye, lends renewed gravity to the scandal.
Barbara Bowman, who famously shared her story in The Washington Post, details the night she believes the comedian was attempting to rape her in an Atlantic City hotel room. She claims she struggled and eventually fought him off; after that, she says he told her that he "better never, ever hear your name or see your face again."
In 1989, Bowman went to a lawyer to share what happened. "He laughed me out of the office," she tells the camera. "Who's going to believe me?" she recalls thinking at the time. "[Bill Cosby] is Dr. Huxtable, America's favorite dad."
The "who will believe me?" theme echoes throughout the accounts of the purported victims' stories, including that of Chelan Lasha, who was only 17 when Cosby allegedly told her he would help set her up with a modeling contract. The vulnerability of each and every one of these women was a constant: They were almost all young actors or models seeking their big break, grateful for a mentor figure, honored by the attentions of an iconic American entertainer.
"I thought he was going to help me," Lasha explains. "But he didn't help me. He hurt me. He made me feel like nobody." She claims that Cosby gave her an allergy pill, and after taking it she became catatonic. During the alleged assault, she remembers repeating his famous character's name in her mind because she couldn't believe what was happening.
"I was passed out, and I woke up to him saying, 'Daddy says wake up,' and clapping." She also says he left her $1,500 on the dresser. "Who was going to believe me?" she thought. "I'm just a high school student."
Even supermodel Beverly Johnson, who claims to have been assaulted by Cosby in the mid-'80s, felt that she didn't have any recourse. She says he invited her to his home and dosed her. "He puts one hand around my waist...I remember cocking my head and saying, 'You're a motherfucker, aren't you?'"
"I was so disappointed," Johnson continues. "It was like a family member had done something to me. I knew that the kind of person I was dealing with would destroy me."
The Women Speak also addresses how it could have been possible for so many assaults to fly under the radar — a question that Cosby's lawyers have used in his defense more than once. The short answer: They didn't. Cosby's driver reportedly told one alleged victim while she was vomiting in the backseat of comedian's limo that she "wasn't the first;" and at least one cast mate on The Cosby Show noticed strange behavior.
Joseph Phillips, who played Cosby's son-in-law, says in the special that while he didn't witness anything with his own eyes, there was always "a sense of something."
"There were people whispering, this parade would come through of beautiful women. Something is going on," he remembers thinking. "Everybody's not auditioning." It took a personal friend coming to Phillips and confessing her own disturbing encounter with Cosby for Phillips to come to the conclusion that his suspicions might be correct.
Cosby representatives have continued to insist that all of these women's claims are groundless. But as media coverage, including the A&E special, continues to delve into these stories, it becomes more and more difficult to believe that the comedian is blameless.
Cosby: The Women Speak ends on a particularly painful note: Though 2015 has marked major progress in giving these alleged victims the forum to share their stories, without serious, state-level reform to the statutes of limitation that prevent them from filing criminal charges, the accused might never get their day in court. So, the best thing many of us can do right now is listen.
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