Bill Cosby’s assurances to the parents of an aspiring 17-year-old model from Maryland paved the way for her to move to New York City in 1988.
What followed, however, caused that woman, Jena T. – now 44, who asked PEOPLE not to use her full last name – to join the list of Jane Does who talked with attorneys in 2005 and 2006 to support another woman’s allegations of sexual assault by Cosby. That other woman’s claim was settled out of court. And as some of those Jane Does, now joined by even more women, speak publicly for the first time about what happened to them, Jena is joining them – and says she is comforted to know she is not alone.
“I get so excited when I see what I feel are my sisters coming forward,” she says now, speaking to PEOPLE exclusively as part of the magazine’s cover story on the scandal. “Every time the story comes up I feel a little bit more alive, like maybe one day this will be common knowledge and I won’t have to be undercover anymore about this part of my life.”
Contacted about Jena T.’s claims, Cosby attorney Martin Singer responded: “It’s absurd to publish this unsubstantiated story from this anonymous person.” Singer has called the new wave of accusations against Cosby “unsubstantiated [and] “fantastical,” saying in a statement, “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.”
Jena T., now living in Florida, never brought her own civil complaint against Cosby, and their contact stopped in the late 1980s. But she says a series of encounters with Cosby – who she claims pressured her into a sex act – left her with trust and self-esteem issues for decades.
‘He Promised My Parents He’d Take Care of Me’
“He looked like my father,” Jena told PEOPLE in 2005, when she agreed to an interview as part of the magazine’s investigation into allegations against Cosby. “He promised my parents he’d take care of me. The first time I met him, I had tears in my eyes.”
“I don’t know why I didn’t just get up and run the first time,” she said. “But how do you do that? Had I run home instead, I guess maybe [I thought] nobody would believe me.”
In 1988, Jena took the train from suburban Washington, D.C., to New York City for a day without her parents’ knowledge, met with a modeling agency and that same day was sent to meet Cosby at a TV studio, she says. Cosby was expecting her when she arrived. At that first meeting, Cosby got on the phone to Jena’s startled mom, encouraged the family to support Jena’s move to New York City, and offered his assurance that he would step up to help her, Jena says.
About two weeks later, her parents drove her to New York, where they met Cosby after he invited all three to his home for dinner. Says Jena’s mother, Judy: “Everything he said was reassuring. There was nothing that made me think we were sending her up there to be alone. New York would have been a definite ‘no’ had it not been for the reassurance of this particular individual.”
Uncomfortable with the Attention
But within days after settling into an apartment, Jena says, she began to feel Cosby’s interest was more than paternal. She grew uncomfortable with his insistence they spend time together, and uncomfortable with his touches. She got a walk-on role on The Cosby Show and felt drawn by his invitations into his celebrity universe, but tried to keep her distance as he kept calling her and repeatedly asked her to dinner, she says.
Once, she claims, he asked her what her favorite magazine was. Elle, she told him. “He said, ‘Get that magazine, pick an outfit and I’ll get you that outfit. You’ll wear that outfit and we’ll go out to a nice dinner. And then you can come back here,’ ” she says he told her, referring to his home, ” ‘and you can have Amaretto, your favorite, and you’ll be tired so you can just stay here and sleep on the couch.’ ”
When one of his calls woke her one morning, she wrote a panicked, defiant poem, not naming Cosby but describing her fears about his intentions that she mailed to him in the summer of 1989 after relocating to the Washington, D.C., area. The poem read in part: “Receive a phone call from the Big Man/Who says he has a plan … He is a thief, a hypocrite and a whore/Who only wants more.”
“When I sent him that letter, I didn’t plan on seeing him again,” she told PEOPLE in 2005. “I wanted him to know how much he hurt me. I wanted to heal, and he hurt me with the little things I had to listen to. I suppose I wanted him to feel on some level what he had done to me.”
There Must Be Something Wrong With Me
On a subsequent visit to New York City, she called him up. “I was going up there for closure,” she said.
“I decided there must be something wrong with me and I must go ahead and do whatever it was that he expected of me, and get better,” she said. “I went to his house. First, he spoke to me of the poem. He said he was concerned about what he had read. He said it sounded like I had emotional problems. He seemed very caring.”
Cosby suggested she consider a stay in a mental health center, after which she could enroll in college, according to Jena. “He said, ‘I’ll send you to college and buy you a car.’ ”
She declined, but took Cosby’s suggestion to have lunch that day with his friend, Dr. Alvin Poussaint, a psychiatrist and consultant to The Cosby Show who was on the medical faculty at Harvard. She says Poussaint quizzed her about her emotional decline. “I did not tie any of it into Mr. Cosby, because this is Mr. Cosby’s person assisting me,” she says. “He didn’t ask me at all about my experience with Mr. Cosby. Nothing.”
Contacted by PEOPLE, Poussaint says that he doesn’t recall Jena or any such lunch, and that people affiliated with The Cosby Show often sought him out for advice.
“l can’t comment on anything except that I have had fine experiences with [Cosby] and worked with him,” Poussaint says. “He’s always seemed fine in his relationships with people. I don’t know everything of course, but I’ve always found him to be a nice and generous person.”
After lunch, Jena says Poussaint sent her back to Cosby’s house.
“This I’ve pretty much blanked out,” Jena says. “He knew on some level that I was probably ready to give in.” She remembers his attempt at physical comforting. “I’m allowing the rubbing,” she recalls. “He put his leg between my two legs, but I wasn’t excited. But I knew that that was the point – I had to get him excited.”
“I’m sure he fixed something to drink. He knew that I was ready to submit. The whole thing was like – I just knew that I gave him a hand job.” Cosby told her where to find lotion in the house, she claims, and she got it. “I’m like a robot, and that is what I became, and that is what I did for him.”
Before she left, she says, Cosby gave her $700.
“I tried my best to muster a sort of, ‘I am an adult making this decision.’ Did I really feel that way? ‘No.’ ”
A Lasting Effect
Jena says she has sought mental health counseling. Says her mother, Judy: “Often in Jena’s history as she tried to obtain counseling for this, so often whoever she was seeing at the time looked at her like, ‘This is obviously a pretty, young, attractive black female, however she had delusions of grandeur and the story can’t be true.’ It didn’t begin to resolve what happened to her when you can’t find a therapist that accepts what you’re saying as truth. From my perspective [now], I just want to run and scream through the streets. Finally she will be believed … None of these women are coming after money. They’re coming after validation.”
When the earlier civil suit was settled by Andrea Constand – who, according to a police report, said Cosby drugged and forced her to touch him intimately at his Pennsylvania home in 2004 – Jena now says, “I’m sure to some degree there was a bit of a letdown, that there wasn’t more of a public discussion. But I also did feel that I did somehow contribute It mostly felt better every time I heard there was another woman coming forward.”
“I meditate every day and I’ve tried to grasp a more spiritual understanding as I get older. I really try very hard to forgive. That’s important for me.”
She adds: “I don’t feel I was complicit by being an attractive young person at that time. What I feel complicit in is all of the years, I couldn’t stop him from doing it to another by telling them my story. But then I realized no one would believe me.”
“Now I feel energies are changing,” she says. In recent days, “I’ll sometimes just break out in spontaneous cheers of joy.” And she looks forward to the day, she says, “when his name comes up and people are giving accolades [and] I won’t have to look at my toes, bite my lips and do anything to avoid saying what I know to be true in my own life.”
• With reporting by LIZ MCNEIL
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