Embattled Bill Cosby to speak at Christian university

REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Despite allegations of rape and sexual assault, US actor Bill Cosby remains on the bill to speak at a Christian event next week.

He is to give an address at Freed-Hardeman University near Jackson, Tennessee on December 5. A Memphis advocacy group for victims of sexual assault is threatening to protest if it goes ahead.

Leader of the local chapter of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests), David Brown, said: "If he does show up on December 5 to the auditorium, I'll be out there protesting, and I won't be alone."

Brown sent a letter to the university in which he insisted that if Cosby is kept as the keynote speaker at the annual benefit dinner, "your fine university will hurt so many, and you will never know the harm that you have done."

"I got a letter back saying, 'Oh, we are glad you got healed from your problem; however, we are still going to go forward,'" Brown told wreg.com.

"The Dec. 5 dinner at Freed-Hardmann University near Jackson is for a worthy cause. But that doesn't obscure the fact that it also honors a credibly accused sex offender," Brown said in a statement.

"Honoring him, regardless of which charity benefits, is inappropriate and hurtful. It rubs salt in the wounds of already wounded victims of sexual assault. But worse, it deters others from reporting sexual violence. 'What's the use?' many crime victims will ask. 'Rapists, especially the powerful and popular ones, always get by with it,' many will say. So they'll keep silent instead of reporting and preventing crimes. No institution, especially not a college, should contribute to such feelings of helplessness."

A statement issued by Freed-Hardeman University says despite the controversy, the benefit will remain focused on its main goal – "Providing an avenue for donors to invest in the students' lives".

"We committed to a contract with Bill Cosby many months ago after soliciting input from alumni and friends," the statement continues.

"While recent developments have drawn attention to our event because of the speaker, we hope that people will remember: 1.) This dinner is about helping students, and 2.) while we are reading stories in the media, they represent real people whose lives will be effected long after FHU's dinner has passed.

"Please join us in praying for healing and peace for those involved."

Sixteen women have now publicly accused Cosby of sexual assault between 1965 and 2004, including model Janice Dickinson, actress Louisa Moritz and former playmate Victoria Valentino. 12 of the women say they were drugged by Cosby, and another said he attempted to drug her.

The actor's lawyers have vehemently denied the accusations, however. Lawyer Marty Singer issued a statement last week branding Dickinson's allegations "a fabricated lie".

"There is a glaring contradiction between what she is claiming now for the first time and what she wrote in her own book and what she told the media back in 2002," Singer said.

A second statement released by Singer on Friday condemns the "media vilification of Mr Cosby" and says that the accusations have now "escalated far past the point of absurdity".

"There brand new claims about alleged decades-old events are becoming increasingly ridiculous, and it is completely illogical that so many people would have said nothing, done nothing, and made no reports to law enforcement or asserted civil claims if they thought they had been assaulted over a span of so many years," Singer said.

"There has never been a shortage of lawyers willing to represent people with claims against rich, powerful men, so it makes no sense that not one of these new women who just came forward for the first time now ever asserted a legal claim back at the time they allege they had been sexually assaulted.

"The situation is an unprecedented example of the media's breakneck rush to run stories without any corroboration or adherence to traditional journalistic standards."

Cosby has so far refused to make any comment on the claims. AP released a video on Wednesday taken from an interview with the actor in which he declines to discuss the matter, and asks for his refusal not to be used by the news agency.

"I would appreciate it if it was scuttled," the actor says to the reporter. "I think if you want to consider yourself to be serious then it will not appear anywhere."