Village View: Bill Cosby trial – and tribulations

Bonnie Squires.

This article was originally published in the Main Line Times. 

The Bill Cosby trial was an international fascination, not just a Philadelphia-Montgomery County-Pennsylvania obsession. I even received a request from a French magazine reporter who was in the region, covering the trial for his readers before he returned to Paris. He forwarded to me a column I had written in the Main Line Times about Cosby’s having received the Marian Anderson Award in Philly some years ago. The French reporter thought I might be able to give him contact information for three people whom I mentioned.

I answered him in French, letting him know that one of the people he wanted to speak with had died, one had left town years ago, and the last one, Coach Gavin White Senior, had retired from Temple.

So I have two distinctly different visions of Bill Cosby, who was once an idol of American television viewers. And film buffs. First there is the Bill Cosby in a Temple T-shirt or sweatshirt who raised awareness nationally — and even internationally — about his alma mater, in North Philadelphia.

Cosby never missed a Commencement, drawing cheers from students, professors, family members of the graduates, and media members alike. He would come early to the robing room, pose for photos with everyone, kibbitz, make us all laugh, and guarantee media coverage for the graduates and for Temple U.

I do believe it was the late Temple University President Peter J. Liacouras who reached out to Cosby and asked him to be the public face of Temple. And when Cosby starred in the most popular television series of his time, “The Cosby Show,” we could not even calibrate the value of seeing Cosby in the show sporting a Temple T-shirt!

In 2010, Cosby was the Marian Anderson award-winner, and at the time I wrote this about the Coz: “He is the consummate performer, successful author, humanitarian, philanthropist, advocate, educator, role model and creative genius. And he and his wife maintain scholarships at many universities, including Temple.”

Now I do not dismiss Andrea Costand’s testimony — or the charges of any of the dozens of other women who claim that Cosby plied them with drugs and then used them sexually when they were totally defenseless.

It’s just that this was not the Cosby whom I used to see on campus, whom I worked with to make the Temple recruitment television ads, who created a riot as he had everyone laughing and feeling good about themselves at whatever Commencement or Temple University event he would appear at. And who constantly would talk with the parents of students, praising them for their sacrifices.

There is only one other time when someone whom I liked and admired a lot turned out to be quite a different person at another point in his life And that person is Ira Einhorn. Now I do not by any stretch of the imagination equate Ira’s having murdered his girl friend Holly Maddox and stuffed her in a steamer trunk in the closet of their apartment with Cosby’s being a sexual predator. No comparison.

When Ira and I were undergraduates at Penn, Ira was a founder of Earth Day, he would sit under a tree and recite poetry. He was impressive. I was Miss Goody two-shoes with my saddle shoes, knowing nothing about drugs or alcohol. And then I lost track of him while I was substitute teaching in Lower Merion Schools while raising my children, and Ira just disappeared. Probably in a pot-filled haze, but I didn’t know it at the time.

Cosby would lecture and write books and exhort men to be responsible fathers.

Each time, though, that one of Cosby’s extensive legal team would be quoted on radio and television as saying, “but the sex was consensual,” I cringed! I would yell out loud! I mean — Cosby is married to Camille, an elegant, intelligent, philanthropist in her own right. And she has stood by her husband, even appearing one time in court in Norristown with him.

There are cynics who would retort, “But she’s staying for the money!” I highly doubt that now that Cosby’s reputation and career have been destroyed, that much money is still coming in. Although re-runs of “The Cosby Show” are probably running around the world.

I thought Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele controlled himself and his team admirably, and his comments at his press conference after the judge declared a mistrial were sober and professional.

We will have to endure the worldwide publicity again at some time in the future. I will try to keep in mind the original vision I had of Dr. Bill Cosby.

Bonnie Squires is a communications consultant who writes weekly for Main Line Media News and can be reached at www.bonniesquires.com. She hosts the weekly Bonnie’s Beat TV show at Radnor Studio 21 and Main Line Television which airs Monday nights at 7 p.m.

Not Alone – Protecting Students From Sexual Assault

by The White House Press Office

One in five women is sexually assaulted while in college. Most often, it happens her freshman or sophomore year. In the great majority of cases, it’s by someone she knows – and also most often, she does not report what happened. And though fewer, men, too, are victimized.

The administration is committed to putting an end to this violence. That’s why the President established the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault on January 22, 2014, with a mandate to strengthen federal enforcement efforts and provide schools with additional tools to combat sexual assault on their campuses.  
Today, the Task Force is announcing a series of actions to: (1) identify the scope of the problem on college campuses, (2) help prevent campus sexual assault, (3) help schools respond effectively when a student is assaulted, and (4) improve, and make more transparent, the federal government’s enforcement efforts. It will continue to pursue additional executive or legislative actions in the future.

These steps build on the Administration’s previous work to combat sexual assault. The Task Force formulated its recommendations after a 90-day review period during which it heard from thousands of people from across the country — via 27 online and in-person listening sessions and written comments from a wide variety of stakeholders.

Helping Schools Identify the Problem: Climate Surveys

Campus sexual assault is chronically underreported – so victim reports don’t provide a fair measure of the problem. A campus climate survey, however, can. So, today:

The Task Force will provide schools with a toolkit for developing and conducting a climate survey. This survey has evidence-based sample questions that schools can use to gauge the prevalence of sexual assault on campus, test students’ attitudes and awareness about the issue, and craft solutions. The administration will call on schools to voluntarily conduct the climate survey next year and, based on what it learns, it will further refine the survey methodology. This process will culminate in a survey for all schools to use.

The Task Force will explore legislative or administrative options to require colleges and universities to conduct an evidence-based survey in 2016. A mandate for schools to periodically conduct a climate survey will change the national dynamic: with a better picture of what’s really happening on campus, schools will be able to more effectively tackle the problem and measure the success of their efforts.  

Preventing Sexual Assault – and Bringing in the Bystander

The college years are formative for many students. If the task force implements effective prevention programs, today’s students will leave college knowing that sexual assault is simply unacceptable. And that, in itself, can create a sea change.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted a systematic review of primary prevention strategies for reducing sexual violence, and is releasing an advance summary of its findings. This review summarizes some of the best available research in the area, and highlights evidence-based prevention strategies that work, some that are promising, and those that don’t work. The report points to steps colleges can take now to prevent sexual assault on their campuses.

The CDC and the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women will pilot and evaluate prevention strategies on college campuses. This work will build on the CDC’s systematic review, and will identify and fill gaps in the research on sexual violence prevention.

Getting Bystanders to Step In and Help Is a Promising Practice.  Bystander intervention programs work to change social norms, and teach everyone to speak out and intervene if someone is at risk of being assaulted. These programs are among those the CDC found most promising.

Helping Schools Respond Effectively When A Student is Sexually Assaulted: Confidentiality, Training, Better Investigations, and Community Partnerships

By law, schools that receive federal funds are obliged to protect students from sexual assault. It is the Task Force’s mission to help schools meet not only the letter, but the spirit, of that obligation. And that can mean a number of things – from giving a victim a confidential place to turn for advice and support, to providing specialized training for school officials, to effectively investigating and finding out what happened, to sanctioning the perpetrator, to doing everything it can to help a survivor recover.

Many survivors need someone to talk to in confidence. While many survivors of sexual assault are ready to press forward with a formal complaint right away, others aren’t so sure. For some, having a confidential place to go can mean the difference between getting help and staying silent. Today, the Department of Education is releasing new guidance clarifying that on-campus counselors and advocates can talk to a survivor in confidence.  This support can help victims come forward, get help, and make a formal report if they choose to.

The Task Force is providing a sample confidentiality and reporting policy. Even victims who make a formal report may still request that the information be held in confidence, and that the school not investigate or take action against the perpetrator.  Schools, however, also have an obligation to keep the larger community safe. To help them strike this balance, the Task Force is providing schools with a sample reporting and confidentiality policy, which recommends factors a school should consider in making this decision.

The Task Force is providing specialized training for school officials. School officials and first responders need to understand how sexual assault occurs, the tactics used by perpetrators, and the common reactions of victims. The Justice Department will help by developing new training programs for campus officials involved in investigating and adjudicating sexual assault cases and by launching a technical assistance project for campus officials. The Department of Education will develop training materials for campus health center staff to improve services to victims.

The Task Force will give schools guidance on how to improve their investigative and adjudicative protocols. It needs to know more about what investigative and adjudicative systems work best on campus. The Justice Department will undertake this work, and will begin evaluating different models this year with the goal of identifying the most promising practices. The Department of Education’s new guidance also urges some important improvements to the disciplinary process.

The Task Force is helping schools forge partnerships with community resources. Community partnerships are critical to getting survivors the help they need: while some schools can provide comprehensive services on campus, others may need to partner with community-based organizations. Rape crisis centers in particular can help schools better serve their students. The Task Force is releasing a sample agreement between schools and rape crisis centers, so survivors have a full network of services in place.

Improving and Making More Transparent Federal Enforcement Efforts

To better address sexual assault at our nation’s schools, the federal government needs to both strengthen its enforcement efforts and increase coordination among responsible agencies.  Importantly, it also needs to improve communication with survivors, parents, school administrators, faculty, and the public, by making its efforts more transparent.

On Tuesday, the Task Force is launching a dedicated website – www.NotAlone.gov – to make enforcement data public and to make other resources accessible to students and schools. On the website, students can learn about their rights, search enforcement data, and read about how to file a complaint. The website will also help schools and advocates: it will make available federal guidance on legal obligations, best available evidence and research, and relevant legislation. Finally, the website will have trustworthy resources from outside the federal government, such as hotline numbers and mental health services locatable by simply typing in a zip code.

The Department of Education is providing more clarity on schools’ legal obligations. The Department of Education is releasing answers to frequently asked questions about schools’ legal obligations to prevent and respond to sexual assault.  Among many other topics, the new guidance makes clear that federal law protects all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, immigration status, or whether they have a disability. It also makes clear questions about a survivor’s sexual history with anyone other than the alleged perpetrator shouldn’t be permitted during a judicial hearing, and also that a previous sexual relationship doesn’t imply consent or preclude a finding of sexual violence. And that schools should take steps to protect and assist a survivor pending an investigation.

The Departments of Justice and Education have entered into an agreement clarifying each agency’s role. Both agencies have a critical role to play in enforcing the laws that require schools to prevent and respond to sexual assault on their campuses. The agencies have entered into a formal agreement to increase coordination and strengthen enforcement.

Next Steps

The action steps highlighted in this report are the initial phase of an ongoing plan and commitment to putting an end to this violence on campuses. The Task Force will continue to work toward solutions, clarity, and better coordination. It will review the legal frameworks surrounding sexual assault for possible regulatory or statutory improvements, and seek new resources to enhance enforcement. Campus law enforcement agencies have special expertise- and they, too, should be tapped to play a more central role. And it will also consider how its recommendations apply to public elementary and secondary schools – and what more we can do to help there.