WOMEN
11/11/2015 04:08 pm ET Updated Nov 12, 2015

How Cosby's Accusers Are Fighting To Fix The Legal System That Shut Them Out

These women are changing the path to justice for future rape victims.
Getty Images

The first time Lise-Lotte Lublin saw a headline about Bill Cosby last year, she felt an ache in the center of her body. That ache grew stronger each time another woman came forward with an allegation against the 78-year-old comedian.

Lublin says she met Cosby 26 years ago in Las Vegas. She was 23 at the time, a model -- as so many of Cosby's alleged victims were -- and was thrilled to be invited to the comedian's hotel suite where she assumed she'd be auditioning for him. He pressured her to drink despite the fact that Lublin was not a drinker. But she says she felt uncomfortable and eventually gave in to his demands. She remembers feeling "dizzy" and "disoriented" as he straddled her on the couch and stroked her hair. She eventually woke up in her own home without a clue how she got there. 

It wasn't until Lublin heard former model Janice Dickinson recount her story last November that she finally realized what had happened to her that night in 1989. Over 50 women have now accused Bill Cosby of drugging, assaulting or raping them, and yet he remains a free man.

The other women's stories felt so intimately similar to Lublin's that hearing each contributed to an "internal pain" she says she couldn't find any relief for knowing she would never get to seek justice. The statute of limitations on sexual assault was just four years in Lublin's state of Nevada, which meant that her chance to press criminal charges against Cosby was up long ago.

Lise-Lotte Lublin with Bill Cosby.
Courtesy of Gloria Allred
Lise-Lotte Lublin with Bill Cosby.

By Christmas, Lublin reached a mental breaking point and knew she had to do something. "The law doesn’t allow me to do anything about this, so we have to change the law, this isn’t right," she recalls saying to her husband Benjamin. And together, that's what they did. 

In May, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval's signed a bill (AB212) into law which lengthened the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution of rape in Nevada to 20 years. The Lublins' accomplishment has inspired other Cosby accusers, "sisters" as they often refer to each other, to try and replicate that success in their own states. At least three other Cosby accusers are tirelessly fighting to abolish or extend the statutes of limitations which so often prevent sexual assault victims from seeking justice. 

By the time women find the courage to report rape and sexual assault most often the statute of limitations is up! Victoria Valentino, Cosby survivor

Thirty-four states and Washington D.C. have statutes of limitations on rape and sexual assault that range from three years to 30, which means that a victim can't bring charges against perpetrators after that time has passed. And since statutes of limitations for these crimes aren't defined at a federal level, that leaves activists with a piecemeal battle.

Gloria Allred, an attorney representing at least a dozen of Bill Cosby's accusers, calls these laws "arbitrary." Considering how long it often takes for victims to come forward, statutes of limitations "bars them from pursuing justice," says Rebecca O'Connor, VP for Public Policy at Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN). 

According to RAINN, an estimated 68 percent of sexual assault goes unreported. The reasons are many. Some victims feel too ashamed to speak up. Some feel intimidated by the criminal justice system. Some feel threatened by their perpetrator and are paralyzed by the fear of retaliation. And as Allred heard repeatedly from her clients, "against the rich powerful man, they don’t think they'll be believed."

That assumption is not without merit. When the Lublins learned the first step in changing a law was to drum up support for their cause, they created a Change.org petition. Along with the desired support, came attacks on social media from people who still defend Cosby.

"Someone called Lise a dirty f**king whore... and that’s the world we we're living in," Benjamin said over the phone. 

That’s what rapists do, they scare you to silence." Lili Bernard, guest star on "The Cosby Show"
RAINN

The couple persevered, determined to find an assembly member to draft their bill. "I saturated them with emails, with phone calls. I’d call three, four, five, six times just leaving messages over and over again," Benjamin said.

Finally, Nevada Assembly Member Irene Bustamante Adams returned his phone call, listened to the couple's plea, and decided she was on board. Two weeks later, they started to draft a bill to completely abolish the statutes of limitations for cases of rape and sexual assault.

To reach the finish line, the Lublins would have to gain support from as many government entities as possible, have their bill approved by the judiciary committee, and eventually testify in front of the state assembly where a vote would take place.

Benjamin made dozens of phone calls -- to the rape crisis center in Nevada, to the district attorney's office, to the sheriff's department, to as many relevant parties he could get to say, "Yes, we're on board."  

The chairman of the judiciary committee agreed to move the bill forward, but amended their request to abolish the statute of limitations to extend it to 20 years instead. That moment felt like a failure to the Lublins, but they ultimately decided to take the deal, realizing that allowing a victim 20 years to come forward was far better than four.

On May 26, the Lublins drove to Carson City for the hearing, armed with facts and statistics they felt would make their case airtight. They both read statements, and Allred read statements from three women who claim to have been assaulted by Cosby in Nevada. The district attorney's office as well as the sheriff's department explained how the current statutes of limitations prevent them from productively doing their jobs. The bill was signed into law, and in that moment, Lise felt "elation."

Gloria Allred, Lise-Lotte Lublin and Benjamin Lublin join Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval as he signs AB212 into law.
Courtesy of Gloria Allred
Gloria Allred, Lise-Lotte Lublin and Benjamin Lublin join Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval as he signs AB212 into law.

Throughout the hearing, neither the Lublins nor Allred mentioned Bill Cosby's name. "This was about a change for women. For victims. For men and children who have been assaulted and it became something that was larger than just Benjamin's pain and my pain. ...It was difficult day in and day out, knowing that you can’t go after the person who hurt you, and it's because of something as simple as an antiquated law that was written so many years ago," Lise said. 

A few months ago, the Lublins Skyped into a meeting in California where a group of women are organizing a movement called EndRapeSOL with that exact goal. In July, 89-year-old feminist activist Ivy Bottini formed the group after watching dozens of Cosby survivors come forward without any path to legal justice available to them. Co-chair Caroline Heldman, an associate professor of politics at Occidental College, says the group is currently in the organizing stage, and is already making progress.

Sen. Connie M. Leyva announced Monday that she'll introduce legislation that would eliminate the statutes of limitations on several sex-related crimes. In California, it currently stands at 10 years. 

Two Cosby accusers, Lili Bernard and Victoria Valentino are at the forefront of the movement. Bernard, an actress, appeared as a guest star on "The Cosby Show" in the early 1990s and says she saw Cosby as a mentor -- before he drugged and raped her. She says he threatened her life were she to tell the police, and she assumed she would stay silent her whole life.

Lili Bernard in 1992.
Courtesy of Lili Bernard
Lili Bernard in 1992.

Two decades later, Bernard was still terrified to come forward -- she recalls canceling multiple meetings with Allred out of fear that publicizing her story would ruin her life. In May 2015, something shifted.

"I came to the understanding that if I were to remain silent, I would be enabling Bill Cosby. Because that’s what rapists do, they scare you to silence," she said over the phone.

But like Lublin, "coming forward" only meant telling her story to the public -- her window to press charges has long been closed. 

So when Victoria Valentino -- a former Playboy bunny who says Bill Cosby drugged and raped her "doggy style" in 1969 -- invited Bernard to an organizing meeting for Bottini's group, she jumped.

At the time, the movement didn't yet have a name. Bernard's 18-year-old son came up with the hashtag #EndRapeSOL.

Artist and Cosby survivor Lili Bernard is fighting to abolish the time limit on prosecuting rape in California. Will you join her? #EndRapeSOL #CA

Posted by EndRapeSOL on Sunday, November 1, 2015

 In a video posted to EndRapeSOL's Facebook page, Lili Bernard discusses why the movement matters. 

 

Offline, the group is planning a "Walk of Shame" rally on Cosby's Hollywood star on November 21. Heldman says they'll have T-shirts, signs, bull horns, and several speakers telling their stories. Cosby's star is located in a highly-trafficked area, so she anticipates it will get a lot of attention. 

Bill Cosby's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on December 5, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.
David Livingston via Getty Images
Bill Cosby's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on December 5, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.

Bernard, who was once terrified to talk about her experience, now feels empowered by it. She also thinks it makes complete sense that so many women who say they were victimized by Cosby decades ago didn't feel safe going public until recently. "Often times [survivors come forward] in their 50s, 60s. We've lived life, we're less afraid, we feel less vulnerable, we have a lot less to lose," she explained. 

Valentino summed up why those two factors -- that speaking out is empowering, but that realization often comes with time -- doesn't work in a survivor's favor. "By the time women find the courage to report rape and sexual assault most often the SOL is up! Then, there is no recourse for them," she said.

Cosby survivor Victoria Valentino wants to abolish the time limit for prosecuting rape in the state of California. Join the effort! #EndRapeSOL #CA

Posted by EndRapeSOL on Tuesday, November 3, 2015

 In a video posted to EndRapeSOL's Facebook page, Victoria Valentino asks, "What is the worth of a woman?"

In Colorado, Beth Ferrier, one of the Jane Does in Andrea Constand's 2005 civil case against Cosby, called 60 members of the state's House of Representatives before Rhonda Fields answered. Currently, the statute of limitations for rape or sexual assault is 10 years (with an exemption for DNA matches). Fields has written a bill that will be read to the house in January. 

Ferrier, also a former model, came forward for the second time in December 2014. Around 1984, Ferrier says she passed out after drinking a cappuccino Cosby gave her. She woke up in the back of her car with her bra unhooked.

Until very recently, Ferrier had no idea what a statute of limitation was, and gathers that many victims who wait to report are unaware as well. And that's what's fueling her efforts.

"It's not about retribution, it's just something that needed to change for the longest time," Ferrier said. 

Watch Beth Ferrier's exclusive interview with ET for more information about her case and the 2005 deposition. 

Though the Lublins were able to get their bill passed in what Allred says was "lightning speed," it's likely that not every fight for state legislative change would occur so smoothly.

Deborah Tuerkheimer, a professor of law at Northwestern University, explains that prosecutors don't want to bring "old stale cases that are based on evidence that is not likely to be as reliable." Years later, the prosecution might not have access to evidence that could support their case, which also means that a defendant would not have access to the best evidence that could support his or her defense. 

Also, if many old cases didn’t result in convictions, "there are perhaps some concerns for that additional cost that may or may or not be warranted by the conviction rate," she said, noting that this thinking is not necessarily aligned with her personal opinion. 

Heldman and her students are currently conducting a cost analysis hoping to prove that the cost of rape is actually more than the cost to prosecute -- an argument they could present to those who oppose abolishing or even lengthening statutes of limitations. She says that over a survivor's lifetime, the cost of rape -- lost wages, counseling, cost of trauma, care -- adds up to about $151,000.

Allred stresses that abolishing statutes of limitations would not mean denying anybody a fair trial. Regardless of when the case is brought, there still needs to be evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to get a conviction.

For Lise, the win in Nevada has helped her heal immensely and that ache in her body has started to subside. "When it first happened, I felt like I wasn’t a human, like I wasn’t a person anymore. I was stripped of something. Doing this gave me back the ability to feel like a person again," she said.

And Benjamin, though happy with the outcome, plans to start the process from the beginning to fight for abolishment of the statue of limitations (rather than a 20-year extension) once more. "We'll be back in 2017!" he said. 

UPDATE: This article has been updated to reflect the most recent plans for the rally in California. The group had earlier discussed preparing to be arrested for crowding the sidewalk, but that's no longer the case. They are not planning for any arrests. 

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