Tonight on Dateline, 27 of the more than 50 women who've come forward to accuse Bill Cosby of sexual abuse over the last 40 years sat down together in one room to talk openly and honestly about what happened to them — and how it changed each of their lives.
Billed as the first time that this many of the women who've accused the 78-year-old comedian of sexual misconduct have gathered together in one place, the segment furthered the sense that momentum is building and these women won't stay silent any longer.
It also aired just hours after Cosby appeared in an L.A. court for deposition by one of his accusers, Judy Huth, who says that in 1974, when she was just 15 years old, Cosby sexually assaulted her at the Playboy Mansion.
The hour-long special, which was taped in August, featured many of the same women who appeared in New York magazine's July cover story highlighting 35 of the Cosby accusers, including model Beverly Johnson and one of the first women to go public with her story last year, Barbara Bowman.
Bowman gave Dateline correspondent Kate Snow a detailed account of the night in the late-'80s when Cosby drugged her, explaining that he had asked her to come to his home in New York to have dinner and read over a script. She remembers little of that night. "I remember leaning over the toilet bowl, throwing my guts up," she said. "And I'm wearing a man's white T-shirt that was not mine. I'm in my panties."
Bowman said she doesn't remember how she got to the bathroom or why she was in different clothes, but that Cosby told her she had gotten sick from drinking and he had to wash her clothes. She believes he drugged and raped her, and said that whatever he gave her made her feel like she had been "lobotomized." When Snow asked Bowman how she knew she had been raped if she did not remember much of that night, Bowman said, "How do I not know? I didn't show up in a man's T-shirt. I didn't show up with soiled panties. And I didn't show up scratched and bruised and dirty. I knew I was raped."
Bowman recounted that she did not go to the police, but rather, "I told my agent, I thought she would protect me." Instead, her agent questioned her account of the night. Bowman admitted that she continued to see Cosby for two more years after the incident — "I was completely dominated, controlled, a complete and utter brainwash situation." — only calling it quits in 1987 after a "violent encounter."
Bowman's story is troubling, but not unique. Over the course of the interview, dubbed "The Cosby Accusers Speak," Snow asked the women for a show of hands on how many believed Cosby had raped them, how many believed he had sexually assaulted them and had drugged them. A majority raised their hands each time.
Actress Lili Bernard said she believed Cosby would be a mentor to her, until one night in 1990, when he asked her over for dinner and she became incapacitated. "I was on the floor on the carpet, and I remember the sensation of the carpet against the flesh of my back like velcro. And it hurt and I couldn't move because of the drugs," Bernhard said. "And I remember him on top of me. My next memory is cold water on my chest; he was bathing me."
Linda Ridgeway Whitedeer, another actress who met with Cosby in the '70s, said no drugs were involved in her assault, making it easy for her to remember exactly what happened. "His hand came around, just gently got hold of my hair and when I looked up, I was staring at his genitals and he shoved his penis into my mouth," Whitedeer said. "It was over in seconds, and I went into shock.
"It was his gloating over my humiliation that stayed with me," she continued. "More than anything, he let me know, 'You think you're going anywhere in this business? You're a loser.'"
Many of the women say there were others who knew, but protected Cosby, saying his actions were an "open secret." When Snow asked why anyone would stay silent if they knew about his abuses, accuser Charlotte Fox said, "Money trumps everything. People have jobs, people have families. They see it, they know it, and they don't say anything."
Snow asked how many of the women went to the police or the hospital for a rape exam at the time of the attack. Not a single one of the women raised their hands in response.
Cindra Ladd, wife of producer Alan Ladd Jr., said that in 1969 she was abused by Cosby, but she never thought of going to the police. "Rape was done by someone in the street," she said.
"I blamed myself," said Janice Baker Kinney, who told Snow that she was 24 when Cosby assaulted her. But, unlike many of the others, Kinney said that she did accept pills from Cosby. "I apologized to him for passing out," she said. "When I think about how I apologized to him knowing what I know now, it makes my skin crawl."
Sunni Welles, who came forward in March with allegations that Cosby had drugged her when she was 17, said she didn't go to the cops after the comedian raped her, but told her mother. "I went back to my mom's apartment and said, 'I think that Bill Cosby raped me, Mom.' And she said, 'No.'" Since her mom didn't believe her, Welles said she questioned whether the rape had even happened, and even saw Cosby again afterward.
Cosby's attorneys have denied any wrongdoing on behalf of their client, again and again, instead choosing to blame the accusers. But accuser Victoria Valentino questioned how they think so many women who have never met could corroborate such a story: "We never met until this all broke. What did we do, create this whole fantasy individually and then, I don't know how, by telepathy, communicate with each other, 'Hey meet up in 45 years, big reunion!'"
Though they confirm that it was difficult to come forward, all of the women agree that they are happy they spoke out against Cosby. One of his accusers went so far as to say, "Karma's a bitch."