Obama implies Cosby allegations amount to rape

Bill Cosby speaking at the National Action Network's 20th annual Keepers of the Dream Awards gala in New York in 2011.
Bill Cosby speaking at the National Action Network's 20th annual Keepers of the Dream Awards gala in New York in 2011. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US President Barack Obama weighed in Wednesday on the Bill Cosby sex assault scandal, saying that drugging and having sex with someone without consent - a scenario that parallels allegations made against the comedian - amounts to rape.

Obama made the remarks at a White House press conference when asked whether he would revoke the Presidential Medal of Freedom bestowed in 2002 on Cosby, who has been accused of sexual misconduct by dozens of women and spanning four decades.

"There's no precedent for revoking a medal. We don't have that mechanism," Obama said, stressing that it was his policy not to comment "on the specifics of cases where there might still be, if not criminal, then civil issues involved."

"I'll say this: 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," Obama said.

"I think this country, any civilised country, should have no tolerance for rape."

The 77-year-old Cosby was a cultural megastar - brilliant comedian, groundbreaking actor, and star of The Cosby Show, a hit 1980s family sitcom.

But since about 20 women have come forward accusing him of sexual assault or rape, he has turned into somewhat of a pariah.

Obama's withering - if indirect - criticism came awkwardly near the end of a press conference about the Iran nuclear deal.

Hovering in the air during Obama's remarks was the recognition made by some observers that The Cosby Show, about an upwardly mobile black family in which Cosby played the trusted patriarch, helped change American attitudes about race and pave the way for an Obama candidacy in 2008.

In the most recent Cosby revelation, which came via court documents that were unsealed earlier this month following a request by the Associated Press, Cosby admitted supplying powerful sedatives to a woman in order to have sex with her.

Cosby's lawyers had long sought to block publication of the court transcripts, arguing that his right to privacy meant the records should be kept sealed.

But US District Court Judge Eduardo Robreno rejected that argument, citing the contrast between "Bill Cosby, the public moralist and Bill Cosby, the subject of serious allegations concerning improper (and perhaps criminal) conduct."

In the deposition, Cosby said: "I meet Ms (T, whose name was redacted to preserve her anonymity) in Las Vegas. She meets me back stage. I give her Quaaludes," he said.

"We then have sex."

Reaction to Obama's comments was swift.

"By President Obama's own definition, Bill Cosby is a rapist," said Angela Rose, head of Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment, which is leading an effort to revoke Cosby's medal.

"This is a catalyst moment in our nation's history. We need to send a message to the youth of America that drug facilitated sexual assault cannot be celebrated."

Beverly Johnson, a former top model who wrote in December's Vanity Fair that Cosby drugged her, posted on Twitter: "President Obama states on TV that drugging and having sex with a woman after is called Rape!!!"