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I Know Why It Took So Long For Bill Cosby's Accusers To Find Their Voices

Holly Robinson: "I'm not the only woman for whom the Cosby scandal stirs up dark memories." Pictured: Jennifer Thompson pauses before answering a question during an interview at her family's home in Spring Hill, Fla, in March. More than 20 women have stepped forward in recent months to level various accusations against Cosby, ranging from unwanted advances to sexual assault and rape. (Chris O'Meara/AP)MoreCloseclosemore
Holly Robinson: "I'm not the only woman for whom the Cosby scandal stirs up dark memories." Pictured: Jennifer Thompson pauses before answering a question during an interview at her family's home in Spring Hill, Fla, in March. More than 20 women have stepped forward in recent months to level various accusations against Cosby, ranging from unwanted advances to sexual assault and rape. (Chris O'Meara/AP)

I was sweating on an elliptical machine at the gym when a television news host posed the same question about Bill Cosby's accusers that everyone asks about sexual assaults that women don't report: “Why didn't she say anything when it happened?”

I know why.

'You were raped,' a friend said when I told her what happened, days later. 'Report him.'

I was a 24-year-old graduate student living alone in a basement apartment. The house was in the woods, and a lovely older couple lived upstairs.

I was not -- like some of Cosby's accusers -- an actress or a Playboy bunny. It shouldn't matter, yet somehow it does: Some people believe these women must have been using Cosby to advance their careers, or that they are talking now in exchange for cash or fame.

My life was far from Hollywood. I was teaching English to pay my way through grad school. At night, I'd go dancing with friends at the local clubs.

That's how I met "Gary" (not his real name), a physics professor. After we danced, he asked me out on a date. I was shocked but pleased. People in my circles didn't “date.” We hung out.

Gary was 20 years older than I, but handsome: a lanky runner with curly dark hair. He was newly divorced, the father of two. Exotic because he had so much life experience.

During our date, Gary broke down in tears talking about his divorce. I decided I wouldn't see him again.

The following week, I had the flu. My temperature soared, and I was vomiting constantly. I lay on the floor by the toilet, too sick to drive the 10 miles into town for medication.

Gary called to ask me out again. “I can't,” I said. “I'm sick.” I was glad to have this handy excuse; I didn't want to hurt his feelings by saying that his intensity at dinner had put me off and that I didn't want to see him again, ever.

“Let me bring you something,” he said. “Tylenol and ginger ale. Or ice cream?”

I protested, but barely. Everything sounded good, especially the idea that I wouldn't be alone while I felt like I was dying. “Sure, come over.”

Attorney Gloria Allred, center, with clients, Rebecca Neal, left, and Beth Ferrier, right, two of Bill Cosby's accusers have who testified against Cosby in 2005 sex assault suit, announce they have joined a court bid to have Bill Cosby's full testimony from a 2005 sexual-battery lawsuit unsealed, during a news conference in Los Angeles on Monday, July 13, 2015. (Nick Ut/AP)
Attorney Gloria Allred, center, with clients, Rebecca Neal, left, and Beth Ferrier, right, two of Bill Cosby's accusers have who testified against Cosby in 2005 sex assault suit, announce they have joined a court bid to have Bill Cosby's full testimony from a 2005 sexual-battery lawsuit unsealed, during a news conference in Los Angeles on Monday, July 13, 2015. (Nick Ut/AP)

I met Gary at the door in a terrycloth robe over my flannel pajamas. He took care of me, spooning ice chips into my mouth and getting me to wash down Tylenol with ginger ale. He suggested that I get into bed, and I did, managing to smile up at him. I couldn't believe he was being so nice to me.

Then Gary began undressing and said that getting naked together would warm me up. I told him that wasn't necessary, but he got into bed and rolled on top of me, pushing at my flannel pants.

“No, I don't want to do this,” I said. “I'm sick. Get off me!”

“It'll make you feel better,” he said.

“No,” I said.

He didn't seem to hear me. I should call for help, I thought, but how? The couple upstairs was gone for the weekend. There wasn't a single other person within screaming distance.

I was too weak from throwing up to push Gary off. I struggled and protested, but finally it seemed easier to just let him get on with things.

And then it was over and he was gone — in a hurry.

“You were raped,” a friend said when I told her what happened, days later. “Report him.”

“To the cops?” I shook my head. “He's a professor. Either nobody will believe me and I'll feel like crap. Or they will believe me and he'll lose his job. He just got divorced and has kids to support. And he's a sad man. He cried when he told me about his divorce.”

“He's not a sad man. He's a bad man!” my friend said. “If he gets away with this, he'll do it again.”

I thought for a long time about whether to go to the police, but I couldn't do it. I couldn't even imagine telling my own mother.

I chose to believe that I wasn't raped, only guilty of being stupid enough to let this man I barely knew into my apartment.

Just as I trusted this successful professor, this nice family man wracked by guilt over his divorce, the victims that Cosby appears to have groomed for conquest trusted him because he was a father and a beloved comic. Like me, they felt shame for “letting” this kind of thing happen to them.

I didn't report Gary. At the time, I chose to believe that he was a good man who made a mistake by deluding himself into thinking I really “wanted” sex. This reminds me of Cosby, too. In a deposition obtained by The New York Times, Cosby spoke with what the paper reported as "casual indifference" about a sexual relationship that one young woman had not considered consensual. "I think I’m a pretty decent reader of people and their emotions in these romantic sexual things, whatever you want to call them,” the comedian said.

I can't help but wonder if Gary would use the same, lame reasoning.

I chose to believe that I wasn't raped, only guilty of being stupid enough to let this man I barely knew into my apartment. If only I'd been smarter, or said no more forcefully, or screamed, I told myself, this man would have backed off.

But the truth is darker than that. The truth is that I was scared witless. Gary was bigger and stronger than I was, and I was afraid that he would hurt me more than he did if I fought.

I mostly moved on after that, although, as ex-Playboy bunny and Cosby accuser Victoria said, “something inside me shrinks” whenever she thinks of him. I know that feeling.

Meanwhile, two things are certain. The first is that I'm not the only woman for whom the Cosby scandal stirs up dark memories. The second is that women must continue sharing our stories, so that our sons know there are no such things as blurred lines, and our daughters know that anyone can be assaulted — even the ones who say no, and even by a seemingly nice college professor who just misses his kids, or by a cultural icon who makes us laugh. And if the unthinkable does happen, speaking up right away, without guilt, is the first and best way for a woman to reclaim the power of her voice.

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Holly Robinson Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Holly Robinson is a novelist, journalist and celebrity ghost writer whose newest novel is "Folly Cove." She is also the author of "The Gerbil Farmer's Daughter: A Memoir."

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