Entertainment

Advocacy groups slam Cosby's 'outrageous' tour on sexual assault laws

Town halls to teach youth to avoid allegations

(CNN) - Bill Cosby's spokespeople said he will deliver educational talks teaching young people how to behave to avoid sexual assault allegations, leading to harsh criticism from a number of victims' advocacy groups.

"This is outrageous," said Kristen Houser, spokesperson for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

"There are literally hundreds of organizations in this country with expertise in sexual assault and promoting healthy and respectful sexual relationships," she said. "Those are the people who should be doing education, not a man who has 60 public sexual assault allegations against him."

In an interview with CNN, publicist Andrew Wyatt confirmed that Cosby's "educational" town halls really are serious and in the works.

"This is not a sexual assault tour as many media have sensationalized it. It is an educational tour on what people should be cognizant of in regard to sexual abuse allegations and the dangers," Wyatt said.

"It's easy to be falsely accused of sexual assault. If it could happen to Bill Cosby, it could happen to anybody. So people need to be aware of the definitions and perceptions," he added.

The announcement came less than a week after a judge declared a mistrial in Cosby's assault trial, as jurors were hopelessly deadlocked on three charges of aggravated indecent assault.

Prosecutors said Cosby drugged and assaulted Andrea Constand at his Pennsylvania home in January 2004, while defense attorneys argued that the sexual conduct was part of a consensual relationship.

'This is bigger than Bill Cosby'

Cosby's plan for the town halls was announced Wednesday when Cosby's publicists, Wyatt and Ebonee Benson, spoke on "Good Morning Alabama." Wyatt said Cosby "wants to get back to work" and would embark on town halls to talk about broader issues of allegations of sexual assault.

"Because this is bigger than Bill Cosby," Wyatt said. "This issue can affect any young person, especially young athletes of today. And they need to know what they're facing when they're hanging out and partying, when they're doing certain things that they shouldn't be doing."

"And it also affects married men," he added.

Benson further explained what she said was a need for education on the issue.

"The statute of limitations for victims of sexual assault are being extended," she said. "So this is why people need to be educated on -- a brush against the shoulder, you know, anything at this point can be considered sexual assault, and it's a good thing to be educated about the laws."

In an interview with CNN, Wyatt said there is no firm schedule but expected Cosby to make five to seven stops that would include Chicago, Detroit and Philadelphia, beginning sometime in July.

Prosecutors have said they plan to retry the case within the next year with a new jury, and any comments Cosby makes about his case could be used in court against him.

Wyatt said Cosby will take questions from the audience at these events but won't be able to answer all the questions because of pending litigation. He said Cosby's attorneys have signed off on the idea.

Prior to the trial, Cosby told CNN host Michael Smerconish on his Sirius XM radio show that he wanted to get back to comedy and motivational speaking after the case was over.

"I do feel that right now as I speak to you, I want to get back to the laughter and enjoyment of things that I've written and things that I perform on stage," he said. "I want to take other things and move it to halls, churches, etc. to give what I feel will be motivational and informational, and drive people to make changes in themselves, the home life, because the one quote that I sustained is 'The revolution is in the home.'"

'Disgusting'

The idea that Cosby would lead a discussion on sexual violence accusations struck a number of advocacy groups as inappropriate.

In the past few years, dozens of women have accused Cosby of drugging and sexual assaulting them. However, only Constand's accusation led to criminal charges, as the vast majority of assault accusations allegedly occurred decades ago, outside of the statute of limitations.

Angela Rose, the executive director of the sexual assault survivors group Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment (PAVE), said the town halls were a form of "victim blaming."

"It's disgusting that Cosby, who has not been absolved of his crimes, would even consider launching a campaign like this," Rose said in a statement.

"If the Cosby team wants to create town halls for youth, they should focus not on false accusations, but drug-facilitated sexual assault and consent. This poorly planned P.R. stunt is nothing short of a tour of blatant victim-blaming."

Delaney Henderson, a PAVE ambassador who attended the Cosby trial to support Constand, offered her own advice to Cosby.

"It would be more useful if Mr. Cosby would spend time talking with people about how not to commit sexual assault in the first place," said Jodi Omear, vice president of communications for the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN).

Between 2% to 10% of sexual assault allegations are false, according to an analysis of studies examined by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. However, the report says research shows these rates are "frequently inflated." Allegations may have been classified as "false" for many reasons, including gaps in law enforcement, insufficient evidence, delayed reporting or inconsistencies in victims' statements, according to the report.

The idea that "false allegations run rampant, and you better be able to protect yourself is just not true," said Houser, the spokesperson for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Cosby's publicists were "completely misconstruing" and playing up that misinformation, which was also used in his defense strategy, she said.


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