A Brief History of America Ignoring Bill Cosby Rape Accusations

The Bill Cosby rape accusations are not new; we just chose to ignore them.

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Complex Original

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One of the most disturbing things about all of these Bill Cosby rape accusations is that they are not new. The incidents happened decades ago, and they have been reported on many times since. Why do we care now? Did our love affair with pudding pops and Coogi sweaters run so deep? Or has America decided to ease up on its shameful habit of blaming the victim instead of punishing the perpetrator? (We're looking at you, Don Lemon.)

Whatever the case may be, these allegations did not fall from the sky. Here are just a few examples of how we decided to ignore them for almost ten years.

Lauretta Charlton is an Associate Editor at Complex. She tweets at @laurettaland.

Tabloids and Today

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The National Enquirer was one of the first publications to report on the sexual assault accusations against Bill Cosby when they began to surface back in 2005. The first woman to come forward was former Temple University basketball administrator Andrea Constand. After her story broke, several other victims, including former model Beth Ferrier, came forward to participate in Constand's lawsuit. Constand only made the decision to sue Cosby after Pennsylvania authorities declined to press criminal charges against the comedian once Constand accused him of sexually assaulting her in his Montgomery County home in 2004.

The National Enquirer is often labeled a tabloid, which makes its content easy to dismiss. In this case, that proved to be a mistake. When Ferrier decided to make her name public in the lawsuit, the Enquirer bought her full story for $7,500. It was never published.

NBC's Matt Lauer interviewed another victim, Tamara Greene, on the Today show. The following disclaimer/apology ran along with the transcript and underscores the public's unwillingness to believe these kinds of accusations when they are leveled against prominent figures with seemingly unassailable reputations.

For more than 30 years, the media has covered the life and career of Bill Cosby. In January, sexual-assault allegations were leveled against him by a Canadian woman and are currently being investigated by authorities in Pennsylvania.

In the public charges, the woman alleges that Cosby drugged and groped her in January 2004. This is a story he categorically denies. In addition, a second woman, a California lawyer named Tamara Green, is claiming Cosby did the same thing to her in the 1970s.

This is a difficult story to cover, but these allegations seem serious enough, and Cosby is prominent enough, that they deserve a closer look. Cosby is an icon known for his support of education, his generosity, and his outspoken belief of personal responsibility.

“Today” host Matt Lauer spoke with Green in an exclusive interview and asked why she waited 30 years to come forward.

A Policy of Containment

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Come On, People... It's Rape

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In 2007, with the lawsuit settled out of court, Cosby was freed up to focus on his "Call Out" tour and new book, Come on People: On the Path from Victims to Victors. Attention quickly pivoted from "Wow, America's favorite dad is being accused of rape," to "Yippee, America's favorite dad is trying to save the black community from self-destruction." The New York Times and other national publications and television programs covered Cosby's tour and book, but the assault charges were largely left out of the conversation. That was unwise, yet very few outlets at the time felt the need to point out the mistake.

From the Ethics Scoreboard:

Bill Cosby, celebrity, comedian, actor, producer, author and educator, has been both celebrated and condemned in the black community for criticizing the parenting skills and values of black parents. Should his comments be accepted or rejected according to their truth and application to real world problems, or should they be devalued as the hypocritical opinions of a man whose own values cannot stand scrutiny? Though most of the media has gone out of its way to bury the story, Bill Cosby, in addition to all his accomplishments, is almost certainly [a] serial sexual harasser and quite probably a sexual predator as well.

13 Women, One Sentence

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​Who Wants to Remember?

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