A topless protester who leaped over a barricade and ran toward Bill Cosby at the start of his sexual assault retrial on Monday is an actress who appeared on the comedian’s family sitcom The Cosby Show as a child.
Nicolle Rochelle, a member of European feminist group Femen, which is known for staging topless protests, said she wanted to send a message to the 80-year-old comedian.
“The main goal was to make Cosby uncomfortable because that is exactly what he has been doing for decades to women,” she told reporters after her release from custody.
Rochelle, of Little Falls, New Jersey, had the names of more than 50 of Cosby’s accusers scrawled on her body, along with the words Women’s Lives Matter, when she ran in front of Cosby toward a bank of TV cameras outside the suburban Philadelphia courthouse.
Her protest came ahead of opening statements in a case that pits Cosby against a former Temple University women’s basketball official who says the comedian drugged and molested her in 2004. He says the encounter was consensual.
Rochelle, who guest-starred on several episodes of The Cosby Show more than 25 years ago, said she did not have any bad experiences with Cosby when she was on the show, nor did she intend to physically hurt him on Monday.
“I wanted him to feel something. I wanted him to feel what he did and have it be in his face,” said Rochelle, who has been living in Paris. “I wanted to approach him but I didn’t want to touch him at all.”
The actress, singer and dancer’s activist group Femen, which got its start in Ukraine a decade ago, regularly stages topless protests against religious institutions, far-right politicians and other targets seen as oppressing women.
The group has been re-energised by the #MeToo movement against sexual misconduct. Paris-based Femen leader Inna Shevchenko said Femen has a presence in eight countries.
Cosby’s first trial ended in a mistrial. The case has helped demolish his image as America’s Dad, cultivated during his eight-year run as kindly Dr Cliff Huxtable on the top-rated The Cosby Show in the 1980s and ’90s.