Witness for Bill Cosby Accuser Says Sex Assault Memories Not Eroded by Time

The impact of sexual assault on memory became the focus Thursday of the civil trial in Los Angeles where Bill Cosby has been sued by a woman, Judy Huth, who says he sexually assaulted her when she was a teenager, some 47 years ago.

Barbara E. Ziv, a forensic psychiatrist and an expert in sexual assault and rape, said that traumatic memories from sexual assault “are encoded strongly” deep in the brain and are “less likely to erode over time.”

Victims of such events can recall the details of their trauma many years, even decades later, she testified.

“Traumatic memories are encoded strongly and that is why they are less likely to forget,” Dr. Ziv said.

Dr. Ziv was called to testify by the lawyers for Ms. Huth, who says she was sexually assaulted by Mr. Cosby at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles in 1975, when she was 16. Ms. Huth did not come forward to file a lawsuit until 2014, when, she says in her lawsuit, she realized the emotional damage she had suffered later in her life had been the result of what she described as the assault.

But the accuracy of her memory and the lapse in time before she publicly accused Mr. Cosby have been focal points for his defense team as they work to discredit Ms. Huth’s account.

Dr. Ziv said in court that it can take a long time for a person to make sense of what happened during a sexual assault, and afterward it is common for victims not to report an assault because they are ashamed. “Most people just want to put it behind them,” Dr. Ziv said.

The Sexual Assault Cases Against Bill Cosby

After Bill Cosby’s 2018 criminal conviction for sexual assault was overturned, the first civil case accusing him of sexual misconduct has reached trial.

  • The Civil Trial: Judy Huth has accused Mr. Cosby of assaulting her as a teenager. She sued in 2014, but the case had been on hold while he was criminally prosecuted.
  • Criminal Conviction: In 2018, a jury found the disgraced entertainer guilty of drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand at his home near 14 years earlier,
  • His Release From Prison: After the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned the conviction, Mr. Cosby was released from prison on June 30, 2021.
  • The Ruling: The conviction was overturned on the grounds that prosecutors violated Mr. Cosby’s rights by reneging on a promise not to charge him.

Mr. Cosby has denied he sexually assaulted Ms. Huth, or any of the other women who have come forward in recent years to accuse him of sexual misconduct.

Ms. Huth’s lawsuit, filed in 2014, is one of the last unsettled lawsuits against Mr. Cosby. It had largely been put on hold while prosecutors in Pennsylvania pursued him criminally on charges that he sexually assaulted Andrea Constand. Mr. Cosby’s 2018 conviction in that case was overturned last year on due process grounds by an appellate court.

Ms. Huth says in her suit that she was assaulted in 1975, several days after she and a friend met Mr. Cosby on a movie set in a park in San Marino, Calif., where he was shooting a film.

Days after the first meeting, at Mr. Cosby’s invitation, the two women went to his tennis club, Ms. Huth’s lawyers have said, drank alcohol he offered and followed him in their car to the Playboy Mansion. Once there, Ms. Huth has said, Mr. Cosby forced her to perform a sex act on him in a bedroom.

In disputing Ms. Huth’s account, Mr. Cosby’s lawyers have challenged her recollection of their meeting, suggesting it had happened years after when she said it did, when she was no longer a minor. In their opening remarks, his lawyers sought to discredit the account by pointing out that the women, by their own accounts, remained at the Playboy Mansion for hours after the alleged encounter with Mr. Cosby, swimming in the pool, mixing with famous actors, and watching a movie.

The accuracy of Ms. Huth’s account, and memory, has been challenged by defense lawyers for Mr. Cosby. Credit…Etienne Laurent/EPA, via Shutterstock

The trial is expected to last seven to 10 days and is being held at the Santa Monica branch of Los Angeles Superior Court. Mr. Cosby, 84, is not scheduled to testify and has not attended the opening days of testimony, but his deposition testimony is expected to be played in court. Ms. Huth, 64, who has been in attendance, is planning to give her account to the jury.

On Thursday, Ms. Huth’s lawyers began presenting evidence from a woman who they say was 14 when Mr. Cosby suddenly tried to kiss her in his trailer on a different set of the same movie as the one he was filming when he encountered Ms. Huth. But testimony ended before the woman, Kimberly Burr, could provide much of her account. She is scheduled to take the stand again on Friday.

The friend who accompanied Ms. Huth to the Playboy Mansion, Donna Samuelson, has already testified, telling the court that Ms. Huth was distraught after the alleged encounter with Mr. Cosby. Ms. Samuelson said Ms. Huth had wanted to leave, but that she had persuaded her friend to stay for several hours to calm down. She said they had agreed to keep the encounter a secret because Ms. Huth felt embarrassed and humiliated.

Ms. Huth’s recollection of when the encounter occurred has changed. She initially said that it had happened in 1974, when she was 15. But more recently she concluded that it was actually in 1975, when she was 16.

She reported her accusation to the police in 2014, but prosecutors declined to file criminal charges because the statute of limitations had passed.

Ms. Huth was able to file a lawsuit because under California law, in some cases, the statute of limitations can be extended for people who say they only recently recognized as adults the damage done by a repressed incident of sexual abuse they experienced as a child.

Her lawyers have said she came forward in 2014 after her son turned 15 and as many other women were reporting similar accusations of sexual abuse by Mr. Cosby.

Mr. Cosby has in the past faced multiple other civil cases filed against him by women, many of whom sued him for defamation after his legal team dismissed as fictions their accusations of sexual misconduct.

Eleven civil cases ended in settlements, 10 of which were agreed to by Mr. Cosby’s former insurance company over his objections, according to his spokesman.

Mr. Cosby also settled a civil case Ms. Constand brought against him in 2006 for $3.4 million.

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