Therese Serignese, Florida Nurse, Says Bill Cosby Drugged And Raped Her In 1976

11/20/2014 11:45 am ET | Updated Nov 21, 2014
  • Emma Gray Executive Women's Editor, The Huffington Post
Getty/Courtesy of Therese Serignese

Amid a slew of allegations against Bill Cosby, another woman has come forward claiming that the comedian and actor sexually assaulted her. Therese Serignese, a 57-year-old registered nurse from Boca Raton, Florida, reached out to The Huffington Post to tell her story, 38 years after she says she was raped by Cosby.

Serignese's accusations make her the seventh woman to publicly identify herself as a victim of Cosby's. In 2005, Andrea Constand, the former director of operations for the Temple University women's basketball team, filed a lawsuit against the actor, alleging that he had drugged and molested her a year prior. Shortly after, Tamara Green came forward on the "Today Show" claiming that she'd had a similar encounter with Cosby in the '70s. Twelve other anonymous women agreed to be witnesses in Constand's case, including Beth Ferrier who was identified that June, but the case was settled out of court in November 2005. In 2006, Barbara Bowman identified herself as one of those 12 women, telling her story to People Magazine. Serignese says she was another of those 12 anonymous witnesses -- Jane Doe #10.

For many years, the court of public opinion remained solidly on Cosby's side. An authorized biography of the comedian -- which left out the sexual assault allegations -- came out this September, Netflix had announced a Cosby special it was planning to air at the end of November, and NBC had a new show in the works with Cosby set to star. (The latter two have since been postponed or canceled.) Then in October, comedian Hannibal Burress decided to call out Cosby for being an alleged rapist during his comedy set. The clip went viral, and suddenly people were listening. On Nov. 16, days after Cosby declined to respond to the allegations during an interview with NPR's Scott Simon, Hollywood Elsewhere published Joan Tarshis' account of her experiences with Cosby. The former actress claimed that he had drugged and raped her in 1969. On Nov. 18, former supermodel Janice Dickinson came forward in an interview with "Entertainment Tonight," alleging that Cosby had drugged and assaulted her in 1982. An eighth woman, Carla Ferrigno, also stepped forward with claims against Cosby on Nov. 19.

Serignese says she first encountered Cosby in 1976, when she was 19 and he was headlining a show at the Las Vegas Hilton (now the LVH). (In Mark Whitaker's September 2014 biography of Cosby, Cosby: His Life and Times, he writes that the comedian "returned to the Hilton year after year" during the 1970s, sometimes up to four times a year.)

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Therese Serignese as a young woman.

During a chance encounter at the Hilton gift shop, where Serignese says she was looking at jewelry with her sister, she says that Cosby invited her to see his show. "Somebody came up to me and put their arm around my neck from the back and said: 'Will you marry me?'" Serignese told HuffPost over the phone. "And I turned around to see who it was, and it was Bill Cosby."

After the show she claims she was escorted back to the green room by one of Cosby's people, where she waited around until everyone else had left. Once they were alone together, she says that Cosby held out two white pills and a glass of water, saying, "Here, take these." She did.

"The next memory I have was I was in a bathroom and I was kind of bending forward and he was behind me having sex with me," she said. "I was just there, thinking 'I'm on drugs, I'm drugged.' I felt drugged and I was being raped and it was kind of surreal. My frame of mind was that it would be over soon and I could just get out of there."

Serignese says that her mother encouraged her to call Cosby after she confided in her about the assault, saying, "Well, maybe he'll take care of you." She claims that she did call him, and that Cosby put her up in her own room in the penthouse of the Hilton for about three weeks, until he kicked her out after she had a pregnancy scare. She claims that she continued to have intermittent contact with Cosby over the next 20 years, including at least one subsequent sexual encounter around 1985. She also accepted two payments from him in 1996 after she sustained serious injuries in a car accident, including a $5,000 check from his agent, but she never came forward publicly about the assault for fear that no one would believe her.

"I just tried to forget it. I tried to block it out," she said over the phone. "It doesn't go away but you can make it silent. You can bury it. But all of these times when this stuff comes up, it does make me angry."

That anger finally boiled over into action when Serignese heard about Constand's 2005 lawsuit against Cosby. After hearing about the suit, she says, she called the Philadelphia police department to tell her story, and became one of the anonymous Jane Does set to testify for the prosecution. (Thirteen women in total were set to be witnesses before the case was settled out of court.)

Bill Cosby's camp did not respond to a request for comment.

Below is a letter Serignese says she received from Constand's lawyers when she agreed to testify in 2005.
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We spoke with Serignese about her experiences with Cosby over the years, the impact that the incidents have had on her life and why she's choosing to be identified now.

Therese, you reached out to us. I know that this obviously dredges up something that's really horrible in your life. So, what is it that you want people to know?

Well, my incident happened in 1976. That's a long time ago. I saw the other women coming out, and I just wanted people to know that this man is capable of what is being said about him. In my case, it happened. So, what do I want people to know? That he has caused a lot of harm to a lot of women. And I believe that he owes each and every woman a sincere apology. I wish he would quit lying and denying it, because what helps [victims] heal, is that validation that someone hears you, that someone believes you, that you matter. It mattered. What happened to you mattered.

And that's why I'm reaching out, because over the course of 38 years, I have heard these stories about what a great guy he is. He certainly is funny. But he also predatorily abuses women.

When did you first meet Bill Cosby?

I was in Las Vegas in 1976. My mother had moved down there after my parents got divorced. I believe it was a summer vacation, because my little brothers and sisters were also down there. And I remember being at the Hilton Hotel where Bill Cosby was the headliner, and I was just shopping with my younger sister. I was 19 and my younger sister was 14. And we were just looking at jewelry at the Hilton and somebody came up to me and put their arm around my neck from the back and said: "Will you marry me?" And I turned around to see who it was, and it was Bill Cosby.

Well, this was pretty darn amazing. Because, I knew who he was. He was a star. And we ended up talking. I remember he asked me if I wanted to go see his show. And I was thrilled! It was expensive, and he was the headliner. I never dreamed I would get to go to that show. So, I got to see his show and I sat in the front row. I got escorted to the front row; I was treated like royalty.

But afterwards, one of his people escorted me to the green room. There were lots of people there and they were all jovial, talking to [Cosby]. I was just sitting on the couch. I was kind of shy at the time [and] I was very naive. I wasn't used to being in this type of situation. One by one, the people left. And then finally I was the last one there. I didn't think anything of it, but I didn't know what to say. I was just there. And then that's when he came up to me and held his hand out. He had two large white pills in his hand and a glass of water. And he said: "Here, take these." Now, I went to Catholic school, I learned to be obedient, and this was an authority. This was like my father. This was like my teacher; like the president. This was an authority [figure]. So, I did it. I took the pills.

Can you walk me through exactly what happened after you took the pills?

The next memory I have was in a bathroom, and the bathroom mirror was there and maybe a cabinet was open or something. I was bending forward and he was behind me having sex with me. I was being raped. I felt drugged and I was being raped, and it was kind of surreal. It was sex. It was intercourse -- it was all of that and it was beyond the scope of what I would've ever been comfortable with. I didn't know this man! We didn't even talk! I was drugged. I was intimidated. I was just there, thinking "I'm on drugs, I'm drugged." I just knew in my head that it would be over soon. You have no voice; you just hope you get out of there. My frame of mind was that it would be over soon and I could just get out of there. And then my next memory is leaving the building. I don't know how I got home. All I remember is feeling drugged, and not knowing how that even happened to me.

Did you come forward and file a police report at the time?

Oh no, no. I couldn't even make sense of it in my own head. I was just angry at myself. How did I let that happen? You blame yourself. You now are a victim; you're embarrassed. Nobody would have believed any of us if we stood there back then in the '70s and said that [Bill Cosby had assaulted us]. There was nothing even called "date rape." That wasn't even a word. Even to this day, women are mocked [and] women are accused of lying. "Well, why did you go to his room?" Well, who ever dreams someone is going to drug you and then rape you?

Did you confide in anyone about the assault at the time?

I told bits and pieces to friends. But not that particular spot of the incident, no. Because that's humiliating and shameful. [The only person I told in 1976 about what had happened] was my mother. Now, in 1976, women didn't have any power. You didn't say anything about that. This was a star, this was a headliner. You just didn't do anything. So [when I told her about the assault], my mother said to me: "Well, maybe he'll take care of you." My mom encouraged me to call him.

Did you end up calling him?

I did. I ended up calling him, and after that incident I stayed at the Hilton for about three weeks. I remember being up at the penthouse. I had my own room up there. I tried to make it like it was OK. I stayed there in a room until one day when I thought I was pregnant. I told him that I may be pregnant and he quickly shipped me out of there. But I ended up knowing him for years after that.

A few years later -- it might have been 1985 -- after I went through a divorce, Bill Cosby had come to Michigan, where I was living. By that time we had -- I dunno what kind of relationship it was, but it wasn't something normal. I was vulnerable and I reached out to him because I wanted to go see his show. He had a limo pick me up and take me over there. I went to see his show, and then, I guess, he assumed that I was gonna sleep with him. And I remember thinking, "God, I just wanted to see his show!"

Did he give you drugs during this encounter?

I would say he made me take drugs. I really don't think that I ever had consensual sex with him, ever. It was an intimidation thing; it was a vulnerability. I put myself in the wrong place many times and then I paid the consequences.

I remember he made me get my hair wet and stand in front of the mirror, and he wanted me to pretend I was an actress. It was just very bizarre to me, and I didn't want to do it, but I never felt like I had personal power. I guess I always felt like a victim.

Did you speak with him again after that?

Well, [in Michigan] he had said to me: "I will give you $500 for every 'A' you get if you go back to college and get your education." My life went on, and I did end up going back to nursing school and becoming a registered nurse. I got hurt in a car accident in November of 1993, after I had moved to Florida. I ended up being pretty darn disabled, where I couldn't walk, I couldn't use my arms -- I was pretty badly injured. My sister remembered what he had said to me [back in Michigan after his show]. And she says: "Call Bill Cosby up. Make him make good on that." And so my older sister called him up, and then she put me on the phone. And he was just yelling at me, asking why am I calling him after all these years? I said "Bill, you said this to me, and I'm calling you and saying what you said."

The next day, I got a call from a secretary. He sent me a wire transfer, and he had William Morris company send me money, addressed to "Terese Picking." My name at the time [of the initial assault] was Therese Picking and that's what he knew me as. It wasn't hush money. In my mind, this man made a lot of promises. And my sister asked him to make good on it when I was in a time of need.

Below is a photograph of a letter Serignese says she received in 1996 from Tom Illius at the William Morris Agency. Illius was Cosby's agent. He passed away in 2011. William Morris Endeavor did not respond to a request for comment.

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Did you ever directly accuse him of assaulting you?

No, I never said anything. I couldn't even face it. After that initial time I just tried to forget it. I tried to block it out. It doesn't go away but you can make it silent. You can bury it. And then you go on. But when this stuff comes up, it does make me angry. This last woman [Andrea Constand] -- well that we know about -- was from 2004. My [assault] was in '76! Do you see how many people he might have done this to?

How did you become involved with Andrea Constand's 2005 lawsuit against Cosby?

Ten years ago, when I saw this Andrea Constand make a complaint, I was angry. I called the Philadelphia police department up and I told them my story. I called to -- I dunno -- validate her, and let her know that this man does this, and this is what happened to me. And evidently, there were 13 of us. I'm Jane Doe #10. And that [lawsuit is] when it really came out into the public.

rubino

The letter Serignese says she received from Judith Rubino, the attorney who was representing her as a witness in Andrea Constand's case.

I didn't want to come forward with my name, because everybody insults you; it's all negative. And my children were still young. Now my children are all grown and they're all adults and every single one of them knows this story.

After all these years, why come forward with your identity now?

The reason I'm coming forward now is that I'm still angry about what he did, and I'm angry that he pretends he didn't do these things. People know what they do. He's gotta have some kind of a conscience and he has to feel some kind of guilt in his heart for what he did. And he owes every one of us a sincere apology. I don't want to carry this after he dies without him apologizing. It's hard to carry something like that through your whole life.

This is a man that everybody said, "What a great guy this is!" "This is Mr. Family Man!" -- and I knew he wasn't. I know he's a rapist.

I wanted to make sure somebody heard me. I just wanted someone to hear me.

This interview has been edited and condensed. Alanna Vagianos and David Lohr contributed reporting.

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