As Eden Tirl watched a procession of celebrity women voicing their support for the #MeToo movement at this year’s Golden Globe Awards, she had one question: Where was all this support when the first Bill Cosby accusers came forward?
Tirl was a 22-year-old model who had landed a bit part on The Cosby Show when, she says, Cosby sexually harassed her in his dressing room. Decades later, around 60 women have come forward alleging rape, assault, and harassment by Cosby.
Last year, Cosby went to court facing aggravated indecent assault charges for drugging and sexually assaulting a former Temple University employee, Andrea Constand. The case ended in a mistrial when the jury failed to reach a verdict. Today, the jury found Cosby guilty of all three counts of indecent aggravated assault, bringing the two-week retrial and a 12-hour jury deliberation to an end.
For Tirl, who came forward in 2015 about her encounter with Cosby, the timing of the trial means everything. “After the #MeToo movement, there really was a shift,” she said. “I do have hope.”
In 1989, Tirl appeared on two episodes of The Cosby Show. The four days she spent on set was marked by daily requests by Cosby, made through a person on set, to visit his dressing room at lunch, according to a public statement released by Tirl and her attorney Gloria Allred. When Tirl visited Cosby’s dressing room on her fourth day on set, she says, an uncomfortable encounter followed. Cosby locked the door behind him, wrapped his arms around Tirl and nuzzled her, and told her, “See, that’s all we were going to do — make love. That’s making love,” Tirl says.
“I’ve never been in such an uncomfortable situation in my life,” Tirl told me. (The Washington Post reached out to one of Cosby’s attorneys, Monique Pressley, for a statement after Tirl’s allegations. Pressley referred to an earlier statement: “While I do appreciate the temptation that may exist, for some, to turn this matter into a public spectacle, lawyers representing clients resolve matters in court, not debates.” Cosby’s lawyers continue to deny allegations against him.)
Twenty-nine years later, Tirl is hopeful that shifting cultural norms after the #MeToo movement will bring justice for Cosby’s accusers. But she feels uncomfortable with the entertainment industry’s relative silence over the years when Cosby’s accusers spoke out. “The difficulty I have is that it’s great that you’re all coming forward — but why didn’t you come forward before?” she said.
I spoke with Tirl, who now runs an ethical shopping website called Notably Smitten, over the phone from her home in Los Angeles. This interview was conducted before the jury’s decision, and has been edited and condensed for clarity.
How does it feel now, several years later, with this trial happening? What are the thoughts going through your head?
I think it’s an incredibly groundbreaking trial, especially after what happened with the #MeToo movement. The man is on trial for doing harm to only one woman that came forward that was able to bring a case, because the statute of limitations was not up for her. I know so many of his accusers, and these are women from over the course of four and a half decades.
So how do I feel? I hope that the jury that they choose are able to understand and see that Bill Cosby needs to go to prison. I certainly believe that we’re now in a climate that will perceive and observe this differently than perhaps they had before in the last number of years that women have been coming forward about him.
I’m just very curious what your thoughts are about the #MeToo movement, given the workplace harassment that you described from Cosby.
By the time I landed on The Cosby Show in my early 20s, I had already been modeling for several years. I had seen a lot of things. I had been in situations where maybe somebody was being flirtatious with me, even [when I was] working at a Dairy Queen when I was a kid. But the way this unfolded was not in any way typical.
This was a different situation because the only way that Bill Cosby would do what he did in that professional environment, on those days that I worked there, I was told to leave the set every single day to go have lunch in his dressing room. Bill was not the only person who was complicit in this situation.
As a young person growing up, I adored Bill Cosby. Especially given the fact that I was mixed-race, growing up at a time where what he did on The Cosby Show was so extraordinary. And while he didn’t hurt me in the way that he hurt other women, everybody mourned him as a man who did so much for the black community.
The thing that was most significant to me at the time was people knew what had happened [on set]. So it was never a question of, “Who do we go tell?” I had already told everybody that should have known. The only thing I didn’t do back in that day was to have maybe gone to the producers and made some sort of huge deal out of it.
How do you feel now that this whole movement has happened?
I found it insulting when I was watching the Golden Globes, as well as the SAG Awards this year, when Oprah Winfrey, Nicole Kidman, and other actors all made some grandiose speeches about what’s happened in the last year.
I stood up and looked at my husband, and I said, “This is just gross.” If only there had been one of us Cosby women that had had more celebrity status than any of us did. There were four and a half decades of women that came forward. I don’t even include me in it — but the women that came forward prior to the last 20 of us were raked over the coals. They were called gold diggers. If you know anything about state law about statutes, nobody had a case against them. And people scratch their heads about why women don’t speak up about this.
When women started coming out about Weinstein, many of those women had a certain celebrity cachet. It means something in our culture to be a celebrity. It doesn’t mean fuck-all if you’re just a stewardess.
You can’t all of a sudden get on the bandwagon just because Angelina Jolie was hurt or Gwyneth Paltrow was hurt. But that’s what happens. Famous names came forward, and then that’s when everybody got on the bandwagon and when the dominoes fell.
The difficulty I have is that it’s great that you’re all coming forward — but why didn’t you come forward before?
After the #MeToo movement, there really was a shift. As soon as the news outlets started to be aware that the second Cosby trial was coming back again, within days, Oprah finally spoke of the accusers of Cosby. Lisa Bonet finally came out with a new statement about Cosby. Prior to that? Absolutely not mentioned.
I’m curious about your relationship with all the other Cosby accusers.
There is an incredible bond between us. Not every single one of us is best friends, because we all live in different states and we’re all at varying stages of our lives. Some are in their late 40s; some are grandmothers.
It will be the most valuable thing I take from this, this friendship that got created from meeting the other women during this time. Many of us talk on a regular basis, sometimes weekly. I made a best friend during this, and I know other people have created friendships that are long-lasting bonds.
Do you have optimism for the future, given that this movement’s happened?
I feel very hopeful, and I have very good feelings about the movement, even though my nose was a little bent out of shape a couple of months ago when I was watching the awards shows. But look, everybody learns what they learn when they learn it. We’ve got to value all of our society, no matter what our gender is, no matter what our race is, no matter what our freaking celebrity status is. That needs to be discussed here, in this conversation.
But I do have hope. I think the #MeToo movement is great. I think it’s important. I don’t think it’ll slow down. I think it’s only gonna pick up speed. We need changes in the workplace.
Bill Cosby would have gone to jail a long time ago had women not felt as though the celebrities, the king, the titan, the celebrity moneymaker, was not being protected. Harvey Weinsteins are being protected. Celebrity is the currency in our culture.
I hope this interview reminds everyone about the enormous pause from the celebrity community when the 60 women came forward about Cosby. It is directly related to how these men were able to get away with what they were able to get away with for as long as they did. If we did not put celebrities in this category, it might not have happened.