Cosby Rape Survivor Lili Bernard: Sentencing Signals Shift from Misogyny to Believing, Valuing Women

Web ExclusiveSeptember 26, 2018
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As dozens of women who have been accusing comedian Bill Cosby of sexual assault for decades were vindicated Tuesday when the disgraced actor was sentenced to three to 10 years in prison by a Philadelphia judge and sent immediately to jail, we continue our interview with Lili Bernard, a visual artist and actor who has accused Bill Cosby of drugging and raping her in the early 1990s when he mentored her in preparation for her guest-starring role on “The Cosby Show.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn to Part 2 of our discussion about the sentencing of Bill Cosby. A Pennsylvania judge sentenced comedian Bill Cosby to three to 10 years in prison for aggravated indecent assault on Tuesday, labeling him a sexually violent predator. After the sentencing. Cosby’s publicist and spokesperson Andrew Wyatt compared Judge Steven O’Neill’s sentence to the sexual assault accusations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

ANDREW WYATT: What is going on in Washington today with Judge Kavanaugh is part of the sex war that Judge O’Neill, along with his wife, are a part of.

AMY GOODMAN: In April, a jury found Bill Cosby guilty of three counts of aggravated indecent assault for drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand, one of 60 women who have accused Cosby of sexual assaults dating back decades. Andrea Constand was the only case still within the statute of limitations.

For more, we continue our interview with Lili Bernard. She’s a visual artist and an actor. She accused Bill Cosby of drugging and raping her in the early ’90s when he mentored her in preparation for her guest-starring role on The Cosby Show.

It’s great to have you with us. Thank you so much for continuing this conversation. So, talk about—I mean, what I was most struck by yesterday in the courtroom are all of the women who were there. This was a trial that centered around one woman, Andrea Constand. And tell us who she was. Tell us her story, because you’ve all come to know each other so well.

LILI BERNARD: Right. I mean, I don’t want to speak to her—for her. But what I can say is that she has so much courage and so much support in her family that she was able to file a police report within the statute of limitations.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, to be clear, she was one of the leaders of athletics at Temple University, which was Bill Cosby’s alma mater. She, too, had a mentoring relationship with Bill Cosby. I mean, he is their most prized alum—

LILI BERNARD: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: —at Temple University.

LILI BERNARD: And what was so haunting to sit there in the courthouse and listen to her testimonies, this April and then last July, was that so much of what she experienced paralleled what I experienced and the others experienced. So we found ourselves weeping in not only empathy for our survivor sister but also in familiarity. And it was difficult, because when she was describing his MO, it triggered intense reaction emotionally and flashbacks. So, it was not easy. But yeah, he’s a very, very smart manipulator.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, explain how all of these women—we’re talking about a number around 60—ended up—

LILI BERNARD: Sixty-three.

AMY GOODMAN: —sixty-three—coming together. Talk about how this happened over the years.

LILI BERNARD: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: Why don’t we start with your own experience—

LILI BERNARD: OK.

AMY GOODMAN: —in the 1990s?

LILI BERNARD: Yeah. Well, in the 1990s I was a working actor prior to appearing on The Cosby Show as a guest star. I had starred in a BBC film opposite Ving Rhames, Eriq La Salle. I co-starred in a Stephen King mini-series. And I was getting rave reviews for that work in Variety magazine, in The Sunday Telegraph. And then I did The Cosby Show. And once Bill Cosby gained my total trust, through a paternal mentorship, he drugged me and he raped me. And this halted a successful acting career. It was a detour, and—

AMY GOODMAN: You met him in an open cast call for The Cosby Show?

LILI BERNARD: Yeah, absolutely. It was an open call for stand-ins. And I didn’t want to be a stand-in, so I wrote a little note saying, you know, “Bill Cosby, it’s an honor to be here. But I would like a principal speaking role on your show.” And he called me back instantly and began mentoring me and really encouraging me, really supporting intellectually and artistically my creative career, because I was a thespian. You know, I went to Cornell University, and I studied theater, and then I studied with Sonia Moore, who was a student of Stanislavski. I was always in theater.

He was so encouraging. And so, not only was it just such a tremendous privilege to be on a show that has done so much to shift culture’s perception of the black family, but then, you know, also to be in a studio environment where so many people working were black people—the cast, the crew, the camera, the stage managers, hair and makeup, editors—you never saw this, so it was like a totally eclectic, exciting environment to be in. It was not just about Bill Cosby. So that made the betrayal even more difficult, not just that he referred to me as his daughter, as a child, and that he enamored my family. You know, he met my father at the studios, my cousins, my mom over the phone, and told them how much he cared for me. So there was all this cognitive dissonance that made it even more difficult to accept the horrors of what this man did to me, the betrayal.

AMY GOODMAN: Would you call this grooming?

LILI BERNARD: Absolutely. That’s the word: grooming. And I was unaware that it was grooming. I thought that he was just a great man. I thought—you know, I was mistaking him for Dr. Huxtable. And Dr. Huxtable was just a mask, as the district attorney, Kevin Steele, said, that has now been lifted off, you know, and now we are revealing—you know, now we know that he is a depraved, lying, coward serial rapist who has been convicted and is now serving time in state penitentiary.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to you, Lili Bernard, in your guest-starring appearance on The Cosby Show. This is in the eighth and final season.

DR. CLIFF HUXTABLE: [played by Bill Cosby] When the contractions reach eight minutes apart, that’s when you call me. Now, what did I just say?

MRS. MINIFIELD: [played by Lili Bernard] Call you every eight minutes.

SECRETARY: Dr. Huxtable, your lab reports are waiting.

DR. CLIFF HUXTABLE: OK, thank you.

MRS. MINIFIELD: Well, I guess I’m off.

DR. CLIFF HUXTABLE: Yes, in more ways than one. … Mrs. Minifield, I told you to call me when the contractions are eight minutes apart.

MRS. MINIFIELD: I know, but they jumped from 10 to four!

DR. CLIFF HUXTABLE: They jumped?

MRS. MINIFIELD: Last time I checked, they were 10 minutes. Now they’re coming every four minutes.

DR. CLIFF HUXTABLE: Good. Now, Mrs. Minifield, listen to me carefully. Is your husband there?

MRS. MINIFIELD: He’s running errands. But I can leave him a note.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Bill Cosby playing Dr. Huxtable, so beloved, the star of The Cosby Show, and Lili Bernard. And this is really hard for you to watch, Lili.

LILI BERNARD: Yeah, sorry. I didn’t expect to get emotional. I’m sorry. That was the most difficult job I’ve ever done. And just a couple of months prior, I had to come home drugged and sexually assaulted by Bill Cosby to my boyfriend at the time, who’s been my husband, still. And we both confronted Bill Cosby, and we told him we would report him to the police and go to the hospital and find out what he slipped into my sparkling apple cider. And he threatened serious consequences to our lives.

And it takes me back to a moment. I was literally having difficulty breathing while I was doing that role. I was hyperventilating, and it was very frightening, and I thought, “How am I going to stand? How am I going to stand and perform this, and in front of a crowd of hundreds of people in the live audience?” And I’ll never forget that at the end, when the audience was clapping, he looked at me, and he said, “Fooled them again. Fooled them again.” And that was like a jab to me, you know? And I know what that meant, “Fooled them again,” that the audience did not know the Bill Cosby that I knew, that the Bill Cosby that I knew was not Dr. Huxtable. It was a phony philanthropist. And so, looking at that was really hard.

And there was a big blow-up the night before we shot that, during the dress rehearsal. And I have Cosby Show production assistants who testify about this, that he—we had a huge confrontation about the sexual assault, and he blew up, and he threatened me, on the sound stage, telling me that he would—that if I didn’t come to his house again, he would fire me. And it was just tremendous.

AMY GOODMAN: Did you—

LILI BERNARD: Looking at the—

AMY GOODMAN: Did you say it on the stage set with other people there?

LILI BERNARD: On the stage set—well, the conversation—what he said during the conversation, he said, “Look, Bernard, if you don’t come to my house right now and finish rehearsing this, you’re fired. You’re through. It’s over.” And I—and the crew, all around us, they were used to his rageful fits, because he notoriously would have rageful fits. They started quickly rolling up their wires and trying to like disseminate like cockroaches to get away. And I said, “I told you I’m never going to your house again, Bill Cosby. That’s not going to happen.” And then, in front of them, he said—OK, I’m going to take out the expletives, but in front of them, he said—he yelled. He got up, and he yelled, slammed down the script and said, “This is not about me trying to [bleep] your A anymore, Bernard. You’re coming to my house right now, or you’re fired. You’re fired!” And it was nuts. And so, we had this huge blow-up.

But that’s why I started crying, because it reminded me it was such a difficult job, and the whole week he was abusing me. The whole week. And during the taping, my husband, who was my boyfriend at the time, stayed with me the whole day, because he was so oppressively watching me. He made us have lunch with him in the dressing room with Jesse Jackson, his friend that was there. It was just horrible, horrible.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, did you go to the place?

LILI BERNARD: I didn’t, because he threatened serious consequences to my life before I even got home to speak to my boyfriend, before we confronted him. I escaped, literally, in a shouting match to him, telling him that he was not only a rapist, but that this is incest, because he called me his daughter, that I was going to call the police. And he yelled at me back, that “You call the police, Bernard, and I will erase you. I will erase you. Do you hear me? All it takes is one phone call, and you better watch your back. And who are they going to believe? You or me? Huh, Bernard?” And he gave me all sorts of other threats. I mean, we were just yelling back and forth. He said he was going to tell all of Hollywood that I was nothing but a no-good actress and a whore trying to sleep my way to the top. And, you know, he told me that I was dead, I didn’t exist. And it was just—it was mafioso, Amy. That’s what it was. Menacing.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, when did you hear about any other woman’s experience with Cosby?

LILI BERNARD: That’s a great question. While it was happening, I knew that it was happening to others, because he had me mentor a young woman who was 19 at the time. I’m not going to mention her name, because she has not disclosed her name yet. She is a celebrity, a well-known celebrity. And he assaulted her. He abused her. And we were close friends. We maintained a close friendship for a number of years. And I have this guilt that I still carry, because I was in my mid-twenties, she was 19, of not having protected her, because we knew what was going on. There was a stand-in at the time who told me about the abuses on The Cosby Show, another black woman—these are two black women—who has also become a bit of a celebrity. And she told me about the abuses that she endured. So, how—and they told me that there were a number of people, so I knew. There was a white woman whose father was Bill Cosby’s friend, who worked at the Cosby studios, who came home drugged to her boyfriend by Bill Cosby, and her boyfriend is a production assistant on The Cosby Show. And so I knew this was happening. And then I was friends with Beverly Johnson since 1991, and she told—and I heard through friends and through her about her story, about how Bill Cosby drugged her. So I knew. Beverly knew a little bit of my story.

I did not know, however, that anything ever happened in 2004 and '05 with Andrea Constand. I did not know that there were 13 other women, Jane Does, who were willing to testify on her behalf. I had no idea. So, in 2014, November, when it came public, I was shocked. I was like, “Who's this Andrea Constand? Who are these 13 women?” I had no idea. And what happened in November 2014 is that it triggered in me another PTSD crisis, because post-Bill Cosby rape, in the summer of 1992, I was so terrified and scared for my life that I attempted suicide on a number of occasions. I was kept in solitary confinement for 72 hours in a straightjacket at St. Luke’s Hospital. So it was a horrific time for me. And then, again, in November 2014, I find myself hospitalized again, out of fear, because of the tsunami of this. You know, this big monsoon of women speaking out triggered in me horrible memories that I had suppressed, which I didn’t want to revisit. But I was hospitalized again, through Thanksgiving of 2014, for weeks.

AMY GOODMAN: So, were you represented by Gloria Allred at any point?

LILI BERNARD: Well, she represented me for a while in media, for media purposes. And I’m really grateful for her. I learned so much from her. However, she couldn’t represent me beyond that; because of the statute of limitations, I have no case. Even though I have a mountain of credible, of compelling evidence and credible witnesses who have testified on video in my behalf, I can’t do anything, because the statute of limitations prevent that. And in a case in Atlantic City—

AMY GOODMAN: Which is an issue that—an issue Gloria Allred, the attorney—

LILI BERNARD: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —raised in the news conference yesterday, or her statement—

LILI BERNARD: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: —saying that these statute of limitations have to change, because this is what happens—

LILI BERNARD: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —with people often afraid to come forward at the time.

LILI BERNARD: Yes, of course. And it’s arbitrary. It’s an arbitrary time limit that makes absolutely no sense, and it just prevents rape victims from seeing justice. In California, our state of California, we Cosby survivors, several of us, along with Gloria Allred, we actually campaigned and lobbied to successfully abolish the statute of limitations on rape prosecution. Pennsylvania is doing it right now. They’re voting upon whether to abolish the statute of limitations.

AMY GOODMAN: Which is where Cosby was tried.

LILI BERNARD: Yes. And I hope that they land themselves on the right side of history. Even “alt-right” politicians like Steve Bannon have their pulse on the decline of patriarchy, which has been incited by the #MeToo movement. And the #MeToo movement, women, brave women, speaking out against the sexual assaults, the harassment that they’ve endured, that has influenced the abolishment of patriarchal, antiquated rape laws like the statute of limitations. But really the only way that we can ensure equal protection under the law for women is through the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, which is known as the ERA. And in doing that, then you will—we will see sexual assault rates decline even further. So it’s imperative. But this is a wonderful, powerful moment in the history of women’s rights.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, just this week, when you have both the Bill Cosby sentencing and the accusations against Judge Brett Kavanaugh, you have two women, Padma Lakshmi and Alyssa Milano, both well-known actresses, coming out and saying they were raped as teenagers.

LILI BERNARD: Yeah, it’s a seminal moment. I don’t like to use the word “seminal moment,” because that word is derived from “semen.” How do you say it for—do you say “ovarian moment”? But it is a pivotal point right now in the history of gender equality. I feel so privileged to be a part of it. But it’s a fertile ground right now for the changing of laws, for the abolishment of these antiquated sexist laws.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to go back to the Cosby trial. Did you spend any time in the trial sitting in the courtroom?

LILI BERNARD: Oh, yes. I was there the whole time. Small courtroom.

AMY GOODMAN: And what was that like for you—

LILI BERNARD: It was—

AMY GOODMAN: —sitting behind him?

LILI BERNARD: It was visceral. It’s a very small courtroom. I could always see the whites of his eyes. On some occasions, he passed by so near me, within inches, that if I wanted to—and, of course, I didn’t want to—I could have touched him. I smelled the tobacco on his breath. I could smell his sweat. I could smell his raunchy perfume. So it was triggering. But at the same time it was also empowering, because not once did I ever falter into a flashback. Not once did I ever, you know, quiver or shake. I felt empowered knowing that I could stand firm here in support of Andrea Constand, to show my solidarity for her just in my quiet presence, and yet not become intimidated and terrified by the presence of my rapist in a very small room. And that was empowering, especially coming out of a PTSD crisis.

AMY GOODMAN: And you were with all these other women—

LILI BERNARD: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —who, presumably, Bill Cosby knew, who were sitting there through this trial.

LILI BERNARD: Oh, yes, we were. We were sitting there together. There were somewhere between a dozen and 20 of us. And on several moments, Bill Cosby would look over at us. Not for once do I believe that his categorizing as being legally blind obstructs him from vision, because he would look over at us. And what was really amazing, Amy, is that his depravity and his lack of remorse was exhibited through his demeanor in the courtroom, when victims were crying and he would laugh. And even the most striking sight for me was that when he was preparing to be handcuffed, you know, his publicist was removing his watch and his rings.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, we, of course, didn’t see any of this. This was in the courtroom.

LILI BERNARD: I saw it, yes. I saw that. So, his—and Bill Cosby was rolling up his sleeves, taking off his jackets. He was chuckling and laughing so heartily that his shoulders were bouncing up and down, laughing, preparing to be handcuffed. And he was looking at us, and his publicists were looking at us. That’s when Janice Dickinson laughed out and said something like, you know, “I’ve got the last laugh, Bill Cosby.”

AMY GOODMAN: And Dickinson is?

LILI BERNARD: Janice Dickinson, oh, she’s a—can I say this?—BA, bad ass. She is a very brave woman. She is a survivor of Bill Cosby’s. And she was there in the courtroom with us. We are a sisterhood. It’s an unfortunate sisterhood, but it’s a sweet and empowering sisterhood of women who were all abused by Bill Cosby.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, the Cosby family says they will appeal. And I’m reading from the Philadelphia Tribune. It says, “A source whom can only be identified as a 'neutral' Montgomery County Court official, claims a tape played in court that helped convict Bill Cosby was either doctored or partly erased and the original recording contained information that would exonerate the comedian.” The individual said, quote, “No one in the media, no one on the defense really, have either asked me or pressed me or, to my knowledge, anyone else about the tape.” The individual, who requested anonymity because identification could lead to employment loss and other sanctions. “The recording in question aired during Cosby’s trial in April before a jury found him guilty of three counts of aggravated indecent assault for providing Benadryl tablets to former Temple University employee Andrea Constand and then engaging in foreplay where he touched her under her pants and she touched his penis.” This audiotape that was made, can you talk about this, that was played?

LILI BERNARD: What I can talk about is that this pathetic attempt is nothing but another display of the buffoonery, the absolute idiocy, the three-ring circus of a facade of a charade of a parade of charlatans on the witness stand, is just characteristic of what this pathetic defense has been trying to do to ensure freedom for their rapist client. And they failed. So, this is just a buffoonery. Don’t pay attention to it.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you think he will be in jail for—the three to 10 means after three he can go up for parole.

LILI BERNARD: Yes, he can try.

AMY GOODMAN: He’s 81 years old now.

LILI BERNARD: Yes, he can try. But we, the survivors, the 63 of us—and more will probably come out since this verdict—we will be there every step of the way, you know, to testify in front of the parole board as to why he should continue to serve that 10-year maximum sentence.

AMY GOODMAN: And now let’s go back to this context. It’s not only the time of the #MeToo movement, and he’s the first celebrity to be convicted and sentenced and jailed since the #MeToo movement really gained full steam, but also this is the week of Judge Kavanaugh. And now, apparently, there are four accusers who say that he sexually assaulted or in some way engaged in sexual misconduct with them.

LILI BERNARD: Yeah, yeah. It’s the decline of patriarchy, you know, that even “alt-right” politicians like Steve Bannon have their pulse on this decline of patriarchy. It’s such an empowering moment to be a part of history right now. And it’s just—that’s all I can say. It’s the decline of patriarchy, Amy Goodman.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you go on to do now?

LILI BERNARD: I have six children. I’m going to hug them all. I just spent the weekend with my son in Baltimore who’s at Johns Hopkins. I’ve got another one in Boston in college. I just saw him. But I got four left at home. I’m going to hug them and really just rejoice.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you so much for being with us, Lili Bernard, visual artist, actor, accused Bill Cosby of drugging and raping her in the early ’90s when he mentored her in preparation for her guest-starring role on his show, on The Cosby Show.

This is Democracy Now! To see Part 1 of our conversation, go to democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman.

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