June 19th, 2017

The Cosby trial and the issue of consent

In the New Yorker, Harvard law professor Jeannie Suk Gerson writes:

The sheer number of Cosby accusers who have come forward, and the consistency of their descriptions of his modus operandi, are so overwhelming that they produce little doubt that Cosby used his fame and power to lure women, give them incapacitating drugs, and have sex with them without their consent.

That got my attention, because although the numbers of women and the consistency of their stories argue in favor of Cosby’s guilt, they leave tons of doubt—in particular about the issue of consent. There is no question that Cosby “used his fame and power to lure women, give them intoxicating drugs, and have sex with them.” I don’t think he disputes that, and I certainly don’t dispute it, and however distasteful it would not be a crime (the only crime would be the possible illegality of the drugs involved).

The issue of consent is a whole ‘nother ball game, and there is not only a “he said/she said” quality to the stories in the Cosby case, but also quite a bit of evidence that the plaintiff in this trial continued in a relationship with him afterwards. That does not prove she consented, but it certainly casts a very reasonable doubt about not just Cosby’s legal guilt or innocence (an issue Gerson deals with in her essay), but his actual guilt or innocence (an issue she appears to consider an open-and-shut case for guilt).

As for the numbers of woman accusers and the consistency of their charges against Cosby, the earlier accusations were well-publicized and therefore each accuser (or at least many of them) could be copying the others. I am not aware that any of the later accusers charged Cosby with these offenses before the first stories became well-known, but if they had, that would change things and be stronger evidence of his guilt. The consistent fact that their stories involved having sex with him after taking drugs is not surprising; after all, he has admitted that was a sexual approach that he had. Again, the only issue here is consent.

22 Responses to “The Cosby trial and the issue of consent”

  1. groundhog Says:

    Here’s one factor not mentioned. When you are accused of impropriety in a certain situation you don’t keep putting yourself in that same situation again and again without some safeguards.

    His job didn’t require him to be alone with one women in his hotel room. His wife surely wouldn’t approve either.

  2. groundhog Says:

    People laughed at Mike Pence’s fidelity comment, but I guarantee you he won’t run into the same problem as Cosby very easily.

  3. blert Says:

    You’d be shocked as to how many guys use booze to alter the mood, and gain compliance.

    Chronic is also used for the same purpose.

  4. AesopFan Says:

    The thing that most surprises me is that a very rich, very famous, very personable young man (at the time) thought he had to incapacitate his victims as opposed to just asking them.
    And don’t even think of playing the racism card here.
    I know too many black husband + white wife combos for that to win.

  5. John F. MacMichael Says:

    blert above: “You’d be shocked…”

    I doubt it. After all the cynical old rhyme: “Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker.” is well known.

  6. AesopFan Says:

    groundhog Says:
    June 19th, 2017 at 4:05 pm
    People laughed at Mike Pence’s fidelity comment, but I guarantee you he won’t run into the same problem as Cosby very easily.
    * *
    Billy Graham had the same rule as Pence.
    I don’t recall that he had any of the problems that bedeviled some other high-profile preachers.

    Hollywood is a big locus for hanky-panky, but it’s not the only one, the other major player being Washington DC.
    Perhaps that’s not just a spurious correlation.


    The term is first recorded, in relation to its original ‘trickery’ meaning, in the first edition of ‘Punch, or the London Charivari’, Vol 1, September 1841:

    “Only a little hanky-panky, my lud. The people likes it; they loves to be cheated before their faces. One, two, three – presto – begone. I’ll show your ludship as pretty a trick of putting a piece of money in your eye and taking it out of your elbow, as you ever beheld.”

  7. Richard Saunders Says:

    I heard about Cosby and his “medicine cabinet” many years ago when I was working for a firm with a lot of entertainment clients. This was well-known in the industry. As far as I know (and I’d be happy to be shown otherwise), all the women who are now “accusers” went to his room willingly and deliberately with the intention of screwing him to advance their careers, and all of them willingly took the drugs he offered them. They were all what we call “star***kers.” So, legally, I’m not surprised by the verdict.

    Morally, of course, Cosby has no leg to stand on, and what does the case say about an industry where screwing your way to the top is still an accepted practice?

    In most businesses, a superior expressing or implying that a subordinate can advance by sleeping with him or her would be clear sexual harassment. Is it so where the subordinate knows that is highly likely to happen, and is willing to use sex to advance?

  8. huxley Says:

    When I read critical reviews of the latest Radiohead release, I start thinking that maybe Rock-N-Roll has strayed a bit too far from ‘My Baby Does The Hanky Panky’ for my taste.

    –Todd Snider

    I can’t imagine Cosby had trouble attracting willing women. I can only conclude he had a fetish for sex with unconscious or near-unconscious partners.

  9. Ken Mitchell Says:

    Biggest question; WHY did so many women wait so long to complain? Did they all come forward at once by sheer coincidence, or were they encouraged to come forward to destroy an “uppity” black man who had “left the liberal reservation” by saying things like “Pull up your pants!”, “Get a job!”, and “Support your children!”

    Because nobody said anything about Cosby until he started sounding a little bit like a Republican.

  10. Susanamantha Says:

    The book “The Fixers” gives a not too shocking glimpse of the origins of Hollywood, the men who began and ran the studios, and the “fixers” who helped clean up the messes. The actors, of all sexes and persuasions, lived and died with the pedal to the metal. It’s a fascinating book, but not, perhaps, for those who have Hollywood idols they’d rather not see tarnished. Cosby would have fit right in.

  11. n.n Says:

    Preponderance of evidence is fifty shades short of beyond a reasonable doubt.

  12. jon Says:

    This post is based upon an account by a Harvard professor. Not a credible source of thought or reason. You need better source material if you want to be believed.

  13. neo-neocon Says:


    Did you actually read the post? It’s a criticism of an article by a Harvard law professor. Her article functions as a jumping-off place for a discussion about something.

    And by the way, Harvard law professors are a various bunch. Some of them are quite brilliant.

  14. SDN Says:

    There are any number of people who do use intoxicants as a consensual prelude and enhancer to consensual sex. I’d be far more willing to believe these women had they gone to the cops within 24 hours of the encounter.

  15. Naut Right Says:

    Victim brain thought. “You mean a rich and famous guy didn’t invite me alone to his domain to discuss poetry and dance or try his new comdey material with me as the judge? But he said if I did he would cast me in his new show. I thought it was real.”
    This level of dumb seems to have infected around 50 women. There outta be a pill for that.

  16. artemptydgr Says:

    Read the daily news about the threesome that ended in murder
    The men thought they were getting back at a rapist

    Feminists dint like patriarchs but seem to want the same
    That is… If she is intoxicated, she can’t give consent
    But the others, love stoned sex
    Read better sex through chemistry…

    If you do not get into their contortions in trying to check and shut in judgements you went get it

    One is their idea when never lie… But that is as truthful as work make less… Or there was no parity in college admissions mid 60s.. Or the seven sisters dint exist…

    It’s a case of not understanding or really purposefully refusing to understand the difference between a court ideal (not the victims fault) ignoring that in reality victims do change their odds..

    As the men’s movement made clear
    They want the freedom to do what they want
    But without the responsibility for what happens from their choices

    Who wouldn’t buy into that lie if
    Girls just want to have fun

    Just think.. Chaperones and all that courtship and other etiquette was all about protecting women from men, AND men from women, and family name and reputation… Cause breeders know what feminists pretend doesn’t matter… That when ladies pick mates, their early fun short term choices become their families genetic future!!!
    Have fun with sociopathic party hard drug addicts with no future… Dint expect your offspring to end up too far from the tree…

    Bad advice
    Cheapest than nuclear weapons
    Less destructive
    And all thy need to do is target women who will dismantle their own society for a false promises of the bigger better deal…

  17. Ira Says:

    neo-neocon nailed the issue exactly. The question is whether or not the first person (i.e., the person ingesting the drug) did so consensually with the knowledge that sex with the second person would follow. I am not saying that the second person has unlimited license. Nevertheless, once the first person has ingested the drug and thus becomes voluntarily unable to revoke consent, the consent is there.

    Some people use the name “coma sex” for this and the first person (again the person ingesting the drugs) sometimes is the person acquiring and bringing the drug to the “date.”

  18. Dave Says:

    Consent is an abstract concept, is it consensual sex in a situation where the girl wasn’t in mood but went along anyway due to persistent persuasion from the guy? making legal decisions based on undefinable human emotions will always turn disastrous. Call me a misogynist but rape should be reserved to attacks where a girl get ambushed sexually by someone in a setting not her choosing. In my opinion the burden to prevent Date Rape should be on the woman, if you have zero interest in the guy don’t be alone with him in a room under any circumstances. Once you choose to be with this person alone in a confined environment willingly you forfeit any rights to claim rape, period. If a boss ask you to go into his room alone just refuse it.

  19. neo-neocon Says:


    Do you also think that, once you voluntarily let someone into your house, you forfeit your right to accuse that person of theft if he/she steals something?

    Your suggestion would give a person a free pass to rape someone as long as he (or she, I suppose) manages to get the victim into a room alone.

    Each person is responsible for his/her behavior. Being in a room with someone is not consent to rape any more than it is consent to assault, to rob, or to any other crime. After all, the accused can always say the item taken was a gift.

    The fact that the issue of consent in rape is hard to prove does not make it impossible to prove.

  20. Dave Says:

    not trying to be disrespectful but I believe so. of course the woman has the choice to setup video cameras everywhere in her house as a measure to capture proof in the event that an attack has taken place by someone she invited in. given that deciding whether there was a consent will always be a battle of deciding whose story is more believable in a he says/she says situation the only way a woman can proactively protect herself is to be vigilante of everyone she met.

    When you choose to be alone with an individual its very hard to prove that there was no consent when consensus in society is that choosing to be alone with someone is considered to be an act of giving consent, and for the majority of time that is true. why else would you invite a guy into your room if intimacy was never the intent? you can’t just change your mind and claim rape in the middle of the act, can you get a refund in a restaurant after the streak is already half-eaten.

  21. Dave Says:

    instead of “no means no” I seriously believe society needs to develop a new cue word for the girl to conclusively signify rejection to the guy with no room for confusion. the world “NO” is do darn confusion lets be honest, it can mean too many things.

  22. richard40 Says:

    I dont doubt that Cosby is morally unfit, but I share the doubts that what he did was actually criminal. The key for me is did the women know they were taking the drugs he gave them, and did they go alone to his room willingly, knowing he wanted to have sex with them.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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