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He was a nation's favourite Dad. Now he's being publicly accused of rape.

By AMY STOCKWELL

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show aired for the first time in the US. The family comedy was a huge hit and cemented Bill Cosby as a comedy legend.

But sexual assault allegations have cast a pall across the friendly, family-man image that Cosby portrayed on the 80s tv hit.

Since 2002, thirteen women have reportedly accused Cosby of rape.

Cosby, now aged 77, settled a sexual assault law suit in November 2006 (a case in which 13 women had prepared to give evidence of their experiences), but in recent weeks, more details of his alleged conduct has come to light.

Last month, comedian and Broad City actor Hannibal Buress, called Bill Cosby a rapist in his comedy act. In a video that has gone viral, Buress says:

“Yeah, but you raped women, Bill Cosby. So, [that] brings you down a couple notches…. People think I’m making it up. If you didn’t know about it, when you leave here, Google ‘Bill Cosby rape.’ It’s not funny.”

Now, Barbara Bowman, a 47 year old married mother of two, has written a powerful opinion piece sharing her struggle to have her claims of sexual assault taken seriously.

Bowman says that Cosby had sexually assaulted her repeatedly when she was a teenage aspiring actor. She says on one occasion she was drugged:

“I blacked out after having dinner and one glass of wine at his New York City brownstone, where he had offered to mentor me and discuss the entertainment industry. When I came to, I was in my panties and a man’s t-shirt, and Cosby was looming over me. I’m certain now that he drugged and raped me.”

She tells of another occasion where she was pinned down, screaming, in a hotel room.

Bowman recounts the disbelief that has characterised her allegations of rape.

She struggled for years to get people to believe her.

Her agent did nothing. Bowman was mocked by a lawyer.

When Andrea Constad filed a sexual assault law suit against Cosby, Bowman agreed to give evidence. She finally thought she would get her chance to tell her story in open court.

But when that case settled, Bowman was left disappointed.

Then, last month, the Hannibal Buress comedy act went viral and people began to take notice.

Bowman points out the irony that it took a man speaking to draw attention to her claims: “Only after a man, Hannibal Buress, called Bill Cosby a rapist in a comedy act last month did the public outcry begin in earnest.”

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Last week, Cosby put images on his website and asked people to turn his image into “memes”. Things didn’t go as he would have liked.

Pictures of his well-known face were shared across the internet, emblazoned with rape allegations.

The pictures and meme-generator were removed from his website, but the internet had already bolted.

Bowman wonders why it took the involvement of the internet to shine a light on her story:

“While I am grateful for the new attention to Cosby’s crimes, I must ask my own questions: Why wasn’t I believed? Why didn’t I get the same reaction of shock and revulsion when I originally reported it? Why was I, a victim of sexual assault, further wronged by victim blaming when I came forward?”

“The women victimized by Bill Cosby have been talking about his [alleged] crimes for more than a decade. Why didn’t our stories go viral?”

Comedian Hannibal Buress drew attention to the rape allegations against Cosby in his stand-up act.

Bowman is sure that there are a number of people who knew about Cosby’s alleged behaviour, but did nothing to stop it or help his alleged victims:

“When I blacked out at Cosby’s home, there were several staffers with us. My agent, who introduced me to Cosby, had me take a pregnancy test when I returned from my last trip with him. Talent agents, hotel staff, personal assistants and others who knowingly made arrangements for Cosby’s [alleged] criminal acts or overlooked them should be held equally accountable.”

Cosby can no longer be charged for crimes against Bowman because the statute of limitations has passed. But she plans to become an advocate for victims and support women who may be struggling to be heard. Bowman says, “famous and wealthy perpetrators use their power to shame and silence their victims. It often takes years for young women to overcome those feeling and gain the confidence to come forward (by which point physical evidence is long gone).”

Bowman is concerned her alleged experience of sexual assault by a powerful person and the victim shaming that followed is not unique. She says young models and actors are especially vulnerable to the influences of the rich and powerful. “They, like other sexual assault victims, deserve our support. It’s the perpetrators who should be facing public humiliation – not the victims.”

In light of the allegations, tv shows are apparently cancelling planned appearances by Cosby. Both David Letterman’s Late Night show and Queen Latifah’s daytime talk show have cancelled his scheduled appearance.

A representative for Cosby did not return multiple calls and emails from Washington Post staff for comment on Ms Bowman’s piece. Cosby has historically denied allegations of rape against Andrea Constad, with whom he settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.

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