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Margaret Wente

The woman who brought down Bill Cosby Add to ...

Bill Cosby liked to prey on younger women, according to dozens of accounts from his alleged victims. He would take them out to lunch or dinner and then back to a hotel or his place. Then he’d slip them some drugs and allegedly sexually assault them while they could not resist. He kept it up for decades, and he got away with it. They were nobodies. He was untouchable.

“The first thing you feel is stupid,” one woman told the Today show. “And then you feel that no one will believe you. This is the great Bill Cosby, he has tremendous wealth, power, a PR machine, a reputation … but the worst thing you feel is stupid. There’s a shame element involved.”

Then he met Andrea Constand. Thanks to her, he’s finally facing criminal charges – and possible jail time. Thanks to her, other women may at last see justice done.

She was an attractive, rangy woman from Ontario with a curly head of hair. She’d gone to university in the U.S. on a full basketball scholarship. They met in 2004, where she worked for the women’s basketball team at Temple University in Philadelphia. She was 30. He gave her career advice. One night he gave her pills and allegedly sexually assaulted her. He says she was willing.

At first, she did nothing. She returned to Ontario and started taking courses in massage therapy, which, she said, enlightened her about boundaries and gave her the courage to go after him. A year after the incident, she complained to the police.

In response, Mr. Cosby – who was lecturing the country about moral values at the time – fired up his attack machine. They planted stories saying that her mother had tried to shake him down for money. “I am not going to give in to people who try to exploit me because of my celebrity status,” he told the National Enquirer.

The Philadelphia prosecutor said there wasn’t enough evidence to bring charges. So Ms. Constand filed a civil suit. By then, her name had been plastered across the media and she was being hounded by the press. Ten other women agreed to testify that they too had been assaulted. But the case was never decided. After months of procedural wrangling, she settled for an undisclosed sum and decided to get on with her life.

But the dam had finally cracked. Inspired by her example, other women began going public. Then, last summer, parts of Mr. Cosby’s deposition in the civil suit became public. They were damning. He had admitted, among other things, to drugging young women with Quaaludes. The trickle of revelations from other women became a flood. And a new Pennsylvania prosecutor figured that he now had a case. He filed criminal charges just before the statute of limitations was set to expire.

Mr. Cosby is old and feeble now. His lawyers say he’s nearly blind. But he’s still able to hire the best defence money can buy. The prosecution’s case is no slam dunk. The alleged assault is 12 years old. There’s no physical evidence – just her word against his, plus piles of testimony from the deposition that may or may not be admissible. The trial is bound to be a global spectacle. Is Ms. Constand tough enough to go through this all over again?

Oh yes, she is. “It doesn’t define me,” she told the Toronto Sun last summer. “I have a whole other life and I am happy.”

Today, Ms. Constand works as a massage therapist at a physiotherapy clinic in Toronto. In a news photograph taken last week, she strides down the street with two large poodles in tow, seemingly indifferent to the hordes of media in hot pursuit. She looks serene and confident. Her lawyer says she’s gay, and was gay back in 2004, which makes it seem even less likely that the encounter was mutual.

Many of Mr. Cosby’s alleged victims say they went to the police or talked to lawyers, only to be told their cases were hopeless. This case is about them too, and it’s likely that they are a big part of Ms. Constand’s decision to do this. But whatever the verdict, they’ve already won. Bill Cosby is disgraced. He’ll never be remembered as America’s Dad. He’ll be remembered as America’s creepy uncle. And a lot of other rich, famous and powerful men will be thinking hard before they prey on women.

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