Bill Cosby Rape Survivor Says Black Women Face Disproportionate Pressure Not to Speak Out on Assault
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring Lili Bernard into this conversation. Lili, you’re an actor. You’re a visual artist. You accused Bill Cosby of drugging and raping you in the ’90s. Bill Cosby was just convicted of three counts of aggravated indecent assault in another case. Can you talk about your reaction to the news about Harvey Weinstein being arrested on charges of sexual assault and rape in the first and third degree, and then your response to what happened to Bill Cosby in court, his conviction?
LILI BERNARD: Sure. Well, if you’ll indulge me in speaking through the lens of black womanhood, because black women’s lives matter, too, what this Harvey Weinstein indictment has done for me personally is that it’s taken me right back to 1492, when rape was the linchpin of colonization and the slavery that sustained the colonization. And bell hooks wrote that black women are programmed historically to be the sexual latrines of both powerful white men and disempowered black men.
And this is critically important, because, from a cultural perspective, it’s actually against the status quo for black women to speak out publicly against their rapist, particularly when the rapist is a beloved, iconic, black, powerful father figure, such as Bill Cosby. Now, more than a third of us Cosby accusers are black women: 26 of us are black women. And this has come with great burden, because since the Cosby verdict, the vitriol that I and my sisters have been receiving from black, adoring, die-hard Cosby fans and rape apologists—I’m sorry to say, the majority of whom are black men—has increased tenfold. And this vitriol is fueled by Bill Cosby’s impudence in paralleling himself to the lynched child Emmett Till and into his audacity in likening us to modern-day lynch mobs, to likening us to, really, white supremacist thugs who target and murder innocent children, women and men.
And this is important. What Harvey Weinstein’s indictment does for me personally is that it actually quiets these black men who are attacking me, and it redirects the focus to what the real problem is. And the real problem is a rape problem, it’s not a race problem. And Hollywood has perpetuated that rape problem by creating this version of femininity that is like, you know, the damsel in distress, the sexpot. And women are subjected to that. And this disempowered form of feminism infects all corners of Hollywood. And what Hollywood actually is, is this—it’s like an amplified mirror of these centuries of the disempowerment of women, of centuries of the objectification of women. And so, what we, as actors, have to do in the industry is that we have to navigate these perilous parameters, while powerful men, like Cosby and Weinstein, exploit this and hide behind their pockets and are met with impunity because of the silencing culture of rape. And whereas it is empowering for victims to speak out and for actors to break that amplified mirror, you run the risk of being met with cuts, you know, being cut. And this revictimization of the brave victim who will speak out can only be really changed and dealt with once we ratify the ERA and protect the rights of women under the Constitution.
AMY GOODMAN: Lili Bernard, can you talk about what happened to you, what you say Bill Cosby did to you in the ’90s? You were an actress?
LILI BERNARD: Sure. Yes, I was. I was an actress. And I was doing quite well, when I met Bill Cosby. And he groomed me like he groomed a lot of women. He endeared himself to my family. He met my father, invited my father to the studios, spoke to my mother on the phone, invited the grandfather of my boyfriend at the time, who’s been my husband, to the studios, my cousins to the studios. So, he ingratiated himself to the family. He praised me to people to whom he introduced me. And I looked upon him as a father figure. And then, once he gained my total trust, he drugged me, and he raped me. And he did this during the mentoring process.
And, you know, the word “gaslighting” was mentioned, and he did gaslight me prior to the drugging and the sexual assault, when we were—he would put me through these exercises. And during one of the theater exercises, he came around behind me, and he grabbed my breast. And I gasped, and I turned around really quickly, and, in disdain, I said, “Mr. C, you grabbed my breast!” And he’s like, “No, I didn’t.” I said, “Yes, you did. You grabbed my breast.” He said, “No, I didn’t.” I said, “You grabbed my breast, Mr. C.” And so, when he saw that I was displeased, he said, “No, I didn’t. I was trying to grab your rib cage. I was trying to show you to lift up your rib cage and project through your diaphragm.” And so this caused me to doubt myself. But so there’s this very calculating, masterful manipulation of the mind that Bill Cosby, you know, enacted in order to subdue dozens and dozens of women, to the point of being able to drug and rape me.
AMY GOODMAN: You were in the courtroom when the conviction was announced. Again, that conviction was a conviction in the case of one woman, Andrea Constand, from Temple University, his alma mater He was convicted of drugging and sexually assaulting her at his home in a Philadelphia suburb in 2004. How many other women were there with you, survivors like you, and what did it mean?
LILI BERNARD: Oh, wow. At the retrial, there were six Cosby survivors who took the witness stand. One was, as you said, the victim in the case, Andrea Constand, and there were five “prior bad act” witnesses, all survivors of Bill Cosby’s drug-facilitated sexual crimes. And then, in the audience, with the public, there was myself, as well as Victoria Valentino, who’s a Cosby survivor, Therese Serignese, who’s a Cosby survivor, and then—am I missing anybody else? Oh, yes, Linda Kirkpatrick also came. She’s another Cosby survivor. She was there in the beginning. And at the first trial, there were about six of us or so, including Jewel Allison and Barbara Bowman.
So, what that meant for us—oh, I can tell you what it meant personally for me, is that it was—the purpose for which I attended the trial was to provide emotional support and to give a show of solidarity to the victims on the stand, that I’m here, that I believe you, that you’re not alone, that you’re OK and that you’re strong. So, it was like this kind of a zen, cosmic display of energy and support for my sisters on the stand, who were being just attacked by these Machiavellian lawyers of Bill Cosby’s, you know, whose—it was a character assassination. It was really like a case study of rape culture 101. It was horrible the way they were slut-shamed and victim-blamed on that stand. And they withstood without shaking, and they were righteous and strong. And there were just so many just beautifully poignant, historic moments, these displays of absolute strength and power that these victims displayed on the stand. And so I was there to witness that, too.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back also to Harvey Weinstein. This is from Vulture: “Dozens of women have accused Weinstein of various forms of harassment and abuse over the past few months, with Weinstein only directly issuing statements of denial about [Salma] Hayek’s and [Lupita] Nyong’o’s claims. In a new interview with Variety, Hayek believes it’s because they’re not white. [She said,] ‘We are the easiest to get discredited. … It is a well-known fact. So he went back, attacking the two women of color, in hopes that if he could discredit us … now is the time for action.’ This is the second time Hayek has discussed her Weinstein experience. She also revealed earlier this year how she ‘felt ashamed’ about waiting so long to tell her story, because, [she said,] it ‘felt like my pain was so small compared to all the other stories.’” I wanted to bring Louise Godbold back into the conversation. Your response to hearing what Salma Hayek and Lupita Nyong’o also described as their experiences with Harvey Weinstein, his assaults on them?
LOUISE GODBOLD: Well, obviously, anyone who’s been through that experience, my heart goes out to them. But to feel that you also now have to represent the token Latino or the token African American must be doubly damaging. As it is, you know, you’re objectified. When you’re sexually assaulted, you’re objectified. And the abuser is not really connecting with who you are as a human being. So, I don’t know either of these beautiful ladies, but I imagine that it’s just adding insult to injury. And it’s just mind-boggling.
But going back to what I was saying before, that acknowledgment that something has happened is so important, because, otherwise, you are made to feel like you’re crazy. And part of healing from trauma is being able to construct a coherent narrative. And if you’re being told at every turn, “That never happened, I never did that,” you do begin to think that you’re going crazy.
AMY GOODMAN: And today, do you feel that way?
LOUISE GODBOLD: That I’m going crazy? A bit from jet lag, but other than that, no. I’m extremely—I feel extremely validated that we now are at a point in history where this has moved on from stories in the press to an actual court case. And I really look forward to seeing something being settled by the means that our society settles things, through the courts.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, interestingly, in New York, a 2015 New York police sting operation recorded Weinstein admitting to groping Filipina-Italian model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, but the district attorney, Cyrus Vance, who’s presiding over what’s happening today to Weinstein, refused to press charges at the time. One of the Weinstein lawyers donated $10,000 to Vance’s election campaign only days after Vance decided not to prosecute this case. But I want to end with the closing ceremony of the Cannes Film Festival this past weekend, which was rocked by a powerful #MeToo speech by the Italian actress and director Asia Argento, who is among the more than 100 women who have accused former Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment, assault or rape.
ASIA ARGENTO: In 1997, I was raped by Harvey Weinstein here at Cannes. I was 21 years old. This festival was his hunting ground. I want to make a prediction: Harvey Weinstein will never be welcomed here ever again. He will live in disgrace, shunned by a film community that once embraced him and covered up for his crimes. And even tonight, sitting among you, there are those who still have to be held accountable for their conduct against women, for behavior that does not belong in this industry, does not belong in any industry or workplace. You know who you are. But, most importantly, we know who you are. And we’re not going to allow you to get away with it any longer.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Asia Argento, speaking last weekend at the closing ceremony of the Cannes Film Festival. I want to thank Louise Godbold of Echo Parenting & Education, a Harvey Weinstein survivor, accused him of sexual assault, speaking to us from where she just arrived, in Paris, France, and Lili Bernard, visual artist and actor, who accused Bill Cosby of drugging and raping her in the ’90s—both speaking out, joining so many other women right now in this #MeToo moment.