Bill Cosby Clearly Doesn’t Understand Consent

This past weekend, a 10-year old deposition offered stunning new revelations about Bill Cosby’s sexual encounters from the 1970s onward. Obtained by The New York Times, the document is part of a civil suit filed against Cosby by former Temple University employee Andrea Constand, and it shows that Cosby’s understanding of consent is highly questionable—at best.

Constand first met Cosby in the early 2000s, and in 2005 she sued him for drugging and sexually assaulting her. Thirteen other women gave anonymous sworn statements to support Constand’s case, alleging similar experiences with The Cosby Show star. Cosby, however, insisted that Constand was “a liar,” and detailed his allegedly consensual encounter with her.

“I don’t hear her say anything. And I don’t feel her say anything,” Cosby said in the deposition, admitting that he’d given Constand one and a half tablets of Benadryl before the incident. “And so I continue and I go into the area that is somewhere between permission and rejection. I am not stopped.” He also described himself as “a pretty decent reader of people and their emotions in these romantic sexual things, whatever you want to call them,” saying Constand’s nonverbal cues confirmed her consent.

“Nonverbal cues” do not equal a “yes,” and Cosby’s thinking is not only disturbing, it shows that his understanding of consent is way out of whack with legal and social norms.

Earlier this month, the Associated Press uncovered other evidence that Cosby’s ideas about consent are severely lacking. The AP reported that in the ’70s, Cosby obtained prescriptions for quaaludes—a sedative that was also a popular party drug in that era—with the intention of giving them to “young women that [he] wanted to have sex with.”

In the recently released Constand deposition, Cosby describes an incident in Las Vegas in which he gave quaaludes to a woman and then had sex with her. When Constand’s lawyer asked Cosby if he believed the woman was “not in the position to consent to intercourse after you gave her the drug,” Cosby replied, “I don’t know.”

Quaaludes cause relaxation or sleepiness and they can lower a person’s inhibitions (especially when mixed with alcohol), so it is possible that the woman described was incapacitated at the time of her sexual encounter with Cosby. In most states, having sex with someone who is unconscious or otherwise unable to consent is considered sexual assault. And in Nevada specifically, the legal definition of rape is when “the perpetrator knows or should know that the victim is mentally or physically incapable of resisting or understanding the nature of his or her conduct.”

Take a hint from President Obama, Cosby: “If you give a woman—or a man, for that matter—without his or her knowledge a drug and then have sex with that person without consent, that’s rape,” the president said recently. “I think this country, any civilized country, should have no tolerance for rape.”

More than two dozen women have come forward this year to accuse Cosby of sexual assault over the past four decades, but he has yet to face any criminal charges because the statute of limitations has expired in most cases. Cosby has consistently argued that all of the women he had sexual encounters with were willing partners, but these revelations suggest that his definition of consent is horrifyingly inaccurate.

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Photo courtesy of Tara Giancaspro via Creative Commons 2.0. 


Emma Niles is a recent graduate of the University of California, Santa Cruz and an editorial intern at Ms. Follow Emma on Twitter @emmalorinda.