Victoria Valentino talks about attending the trial of her alleged rapist.
NORRISTOWN, PENNSYLVANIA — Victoria Valentino, one of the nearly 60 women who has accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault, is standing on the steps of the Montgomery County Courthouse. The prosecution presented its case in a week, and the defense’s took only six minutes, and yesterday at 5:25 p.m., the jury began deliberating. A verdict could be coming any minute now, a determination on whether or not Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted Andrea Constand at his home in 2004. Cosby has been charged with three counts of aggravated indecent assault; if convicted, he faces a decade in prison.
That morning, Valentino sat in the courtroom as Judge Steven O’Neill, at the jury’s request, read lengthy excerpts from Cosby’s interview with police officers in 2005. When did Cosby first feel “romantic interest” in Constand? “Probably the first time I saw her.” Did Cosby ask Constand for consent? Not “verbally,” he said. “I’m giving Andrea time to say yes or no about an area that is right there in the question zone.” What did Cosby call the pills he gave Constand? “Three friends to help you relax.”
Valentino went public with her allegations in the Washington Post in November 2014. It was “nerve-wracking,” she said outside the courthouse. “But it was ultimately very liberating and very empowering.” (For context, she spoke out just over a month after comedian Hannibal Buress’ stand-up set that sparked the onslaught of publicity surrounding sexual assault allegations against Cosby.)
In 1969, at the time of the alleged assault, Valentino had been a successful Playboy model — at 19, in September 1963, she was the magazine’s Playmate of the Month — but was in the depths of personal misery. Her six-year-old son, Tony, drowned in a swimming pool in September 1969; a friend introduced her to Cosby, Valentino said, four months later, to cheer her up.
As Valentino told the Post, she had dinner with her roommate, Meg Foster, and Cosby at a restaurant, Sneaky Pete’s. When dinner was nearly over, Valentino told the Post, Cosby offered red pills to her and to Foster. “He stuck a pill in my mouth. He said, ‘This will make us all feel better.’” After taking the pill, Valentino said, “We were slurring words. I couldn’t function.” Cosby said he would take them home, Valentino said, but ended up driving them to “an apartment in the hills above the Chateau Marmont hotel,” allegedly to show them I Spy memorabilia.
Once inside, Valentino said, Foster passed out. The room was spinning, and Valentino said she remembered feeling as if she was going to throw up. She said she saw Cosby sitting in a love seat near Foster and she noticed that he had an erection.
“I reached out, grabbing him, trying to get his attention, trying to distract him,” Valentino said. “He came over to me and sat down on the love seat and opened his fly and grabbed my head and pushed my head down. And then he turned me over. It was like a waking nightmare.”
She protested but could not stop him, she said. Cosby slipped out alone, telling Valentino to call a cab if she wanted to go home, she said.
About two and a half years after going public with her story, Valentino is attending the trial of her alleged rapist. She came with fellow accuser Therese Seringese, a nurse who says Cosby drugged and raped her in 1976. Seringese was a Jane Doe in Constand’s 2005 civil suit against Cosby and revealed her identity in November 2014. Other Cosby accusers are in attendance, too: Barbara Bowman and Linda Kirkpatrick.
“We’ve just been waiting for this moment, not ever anticipating that this moment would really come,” Valentino said. She believed she needed to come to the trial. “You have to follow through to the end.”
When you went public in November 2014, did you ever expect you would be here?
No, I didn’t. We didn’t know — I don’t think any of us knew — when we spoke out that we would get to this moment. I think we all spoke out because we’d been harboring this dirty little secret, and it had been festering for years, and it impacts your children and everything they do, and they don’t even know why. So we just needed to step up and support Andrea and say, wait a minute, this is true. This is true. We all experienced it. None of us knew each other. All of them accusing us of some kind of group conspiracy to bring a good black man down. You know, my child who died was a good black man, even though he was six… We’re not interested in bringing anybody down that is a good person. Bad stuff crosses every racial, cultural, intellectual line.
Having to watch all this testimony, see these cross-examinations that have been, at times, aggressive and emotional, what’s that been like for you?
The defense really upsets me. I know that’s his job, but at the same time, I’m just so angry with all the things that he says. He struts around like a little cockatoo. Sort of like a pub brawler, you know? He’s got that attitude. He’s got his rhythm down. He’s a terrific actor. And I just go yeah, well. I see through it.
Was there any moment in particular when you just wanted to get up and yell something?
Oh, damn right. Many times! Every time some lie would come through, I just wanted to stand up. And when Camille Cosby walked down the aisle. The last time I saw her was about a week or two after he raped me, and my roommate, who was with me at that time, she’d already walked into the restaurant. I was on the sidewalk. And I heard somebody go, “There’s Bill Cosby!” I went into this whole fight-or-flight response. I didn’t know what to do.
“Rape is a dirty little crime that you tuck away in the dark pocket of your soul, and it festers, and builds, and infects everything else in your life.”
I just ran up [to their car] and I pressed my face against the back window and I waggled my thumbs in my ears and stuck my tongue out at him. She was sitting in the backseat with him. She, in those days, her hair was all piled on top of her head, very sleek, elegant, wealthy, above-it-all. And I was just a destroyed woman, at 27. A grieving mother. My recording contract was in the toilet, because I was destroyed; couldn’t give anymore in front of the microphone. Walked away from everything. It just made me feel smaller and more worthless.
Seeing her now, I just thought, you know, I just wanted to stand up when she passed. I kept hoping I could somehow make eye contact with him.
Do you think at all about what is going through his head during the trial?
Oh yeah. I’m sure he’s thinking, “I hope I can get off.”
How optimistic are you about the outcome of this trial?
I’m trying not to be too optimistic, because I just — I just don’t know what’s going to happen. But there’s so much revictimization of rape victims, and the legal system does not support us. What is the worth of a woman in today’s society? We’ve got to get out of rape culture. We’re still, in the 21st century, we’re in 17th century rape and plunder mentality. How much is a woman worth? Ten chickens, two goats, and a pig?
I don’t know about you, but I was really taken with — during closing arguments, it was really moving to hear Kevin Steele talk about women that way. To hear a man say, “A woman as a right to say no.”
I loved that. Initially, I thought he wasn’t aggressive enough, during the previous week. I was worried. But when he started weaving the story together, putting all of the pieces and illustrated this personality, the grooming, the manipulating, the gaslighting, the drugging, then more gaslighting, then the payoff. It was exactly what Cosby did. Not just with her, not just [Andrea], but everybody. That’s his pattern. This is the pattern of a sociopath. This is the pattern of a predator… This is what Cosby does with a great majority of his victims. He ingratiates himself with their families, and makes the families feel sort of indebted to him, and makes the families think that he’s this shining knight in armor for their child.
What is your relationship like now with other women who have come forward? Do you feel connected in some way?
We’ve sort of developed a sisterhood. Not all of us, because we’re scattered all over the country… It’s kind of this behind-the-scenes support group. Joan Tarshis has M.S., she’s bed-bound, and we have to lift her up.
Who are you here with today?
I came with Therese Serignese. Linda Cooper Kirkpatrick is here. Barbara Bowman is here. Caroline Hellman is not a Cosby survivor; she was a Fox News talking head for a while, and she was accosted or intimidated or harassed by Bill O’Reilly, and she spoke out on MSNBC about him. She was the co-chair for our SOL [Statue of Limitations] coalition in California. We worked on that for a whole year, and Governor Brown signed our bill. It went into effect on the first of January. Gloria Allred was with us. She, of course, brings the crowds. And she’s so articulate, and she, too, was a rape victim. At gunpoint.
Hearing the defense attorney bring up and hammer on this idea that Gloria Allred is about publicity, and that when women come forward with her at their side, there are cameras everywhere, I’m curious how much do you feel that publicity is helpful, because it amplifies your voices and your stories, and how much of it makes people doubt the reasons that women come forward?
You always have the naysayers. But the fact is, Gloria has a high profile. She’s been there. She is a rape victim. And she understands it. She’s a very strong advocate for women. I used to have questions about her, too, being a camera hog, all that stuff, until I got to know her. She’s brilliant. She knows how to get the message out, and that’s what the problem is with rape. Rape is a dirty little crime that you tuck away in the dark pocket of your soul, and it festers, and builds, and infects everything else in your life. Once it’s exposed to the light, honey, it just can’t survive. And Gloria is a catalyst for getting that fungus out and shining a light on it. She is a tremendous human being.
Beyond just this trial, how hopeful are you about, as you say, rape culture and the treatment of women changing? Do you think that this case is a watershed moment?
I do. I have to say that, since we all broke our silence, suddenly the conversation was on the table. I can’t tell you how many private messages all of us get on Facebook, email. People come up to us wherever we are. Thank you for speaking out. It happened to me. Guys, too, who were raped. They come to us and say, thank you, I can talk about it now. Because of you, I confronted my rapist. And the rapist was either a parent, or a minister, a priest, a teacher, an uncle. And so people are beginning to realize, they don’t have to be ashamed. It’s not their fault. And one of the things with rape victims that keeps us so silent is because we do a lot of self-blame. “God, I shouldn’t have worn that red dress. Mama always told me that red incenses the feelings of men!”
I think people imagine being questioned the way that Andrea was questioned, and seeing all their choices examined and criticized in that way.
Of course. It’s a whole culture of misogyny. Look at what we have in the White House right now. It’s all a bunch of misogynists. The good ol’ boy network. The good ol’ white boy network. How many women — true women, with feet on the ground — are part of that White House? The whole thing is geared to that. They want to take us back to the Dark Ages. Get rid of our rights… We are not property. We can make our own decisions independent of a father figure.
“We want to see this particular crime, and the victims, be validated.”
I just think that we want to see this particular crime, and the victims, be validated. And we are all victims. I don’t know one woman who hasn’t had one moment in her life when she felt treated as if she were an object, as if she were property. Or have a man raise his voice in a certain timbre to intimidate, because we’re just little ladies. And I don’t want my daughters to continue on in their life — and they’re 38 and 45 — and I have two granddaughters, six and four, and three grandsons ranging from three months to 19, and I want them to be raised right, and think of themselves as equals, and proactive, and having just as many rights as the next guy.
Cosby accuser awaits verdict: ‘We’ve just been waiting for this moment.’ was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.