Advocates for survivors of sexual violence expressed relief and appreciation that famous comedian Bill Cosby was charged Wednesday with aggravated indecent assault in Pennsylvania, after years of lurid allegations he has vigorously denied.
The charges stem from a more-than-decade-old encounter in which a former Temple University employee claims she was urged to take pills and drink wine at Cosby's home, and that doing so left her unable to fend off his sexual advances.
The now-78-year-old Cosby allegedly penetrated the woman with his fingers without her consent as she drifted in and out of consciousness.
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If there is a conviction, the crime is punishable by five to 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine. Cosby did not have to enter a plea.
"I'm thinking, 'What a relief,'" said Isa Woldeguiorguis, the executive director of the Center for Hope and Healing in Lowell, Massachusetts. "Finally, some justice."
Woldeguiorguis said she did wonder if criminal charges would ever be levied against the celebrated star of "The Cosby Show." She said the charge gives much-needed visibility to the scourge of sexual intimidation, exploitation and assault.
"For survivors, the world becomes a different place when we see perpetrators held accountable," Woldeguiorguis told necn. "When a perpetrator comes to justice, when the criminal justice system begins to do what it needs to do to hold perpetrators accountable, the burden, the shame, the secrecy, is removed from the shoulders of the survivor alone and is placed where it belongs: on the shoulders of a perpetrator."
Helen Gumple, a former model and actress who now lives with her husband in Connecticut, told necn by phone Wednesday that she is glad accusations against Cosby have been taken seriously.
"I was elated," Gumple said of learning criminal charges would be filed. "What bothered me was the intimidation factor. I'm glad the women came out finally. The little people - the victims - they're coming out and saying something. And actually, what they're doing is protecting other women."
Gumple said the famous comedian tried assaulting her in the 1980s, when she had a small role on "The Cosby Show." Gumple alleges Cosby exposed himself, and gave her a drink she refused to take. She said after that rebuked encounter, her career suffered.
"Just because a person has an image - for example, the Catholic Church or celebrities - they have an image of being wonderful or powerful. It could be a lie," Gumple said. "In this case, it's a lie."
Gumple's attorney, Mitchell Garabedian, who has handled many cases involving sexual abuse, told necn he believes the criminal charge against Cosby will help empower victims in other cases so they do not feel alone or forgotten.
Garabedian also praised the prosecutor for filing this criminal charge when a predecessor declined to, just days before Pennsylvania's statute of limitations was set to run out.
Woldeguiorguis said sexual violence is widely believed to be one of the nation's most under-reported crimes, and that very few perpetrators end up being prosecuted, let alone convicted. Still, she called it "refreshing" that Cosby was charged.
Previously, Cosby and his representatives have repeatedly denied all allegations of sexual misconduct. Prior to Wednesday, Cosby had never been charged criminally with anything stemming from the sexual misconduct allegations.
"Make no mistake: We intend to mount a vigorous defense against this unjustified charge, and we expect that Mr. Cosby will be exonerated by a court of law," Cosby's attorney, Monique Pressley said in a statement.
Cosby made no comment to reporters as he was released on $1 million bail.