Another woman is adding her face and name to the list of those who allege they suffered sexual assault at the hands of Bill Cosby.
Therese Serignese, now 57, was 19 (and known by her maiden name, Therese Picking) and standing with her younger brother and sister outside of a gift shop of the Las Vegas Hilton in 1976 when, she says, a man approached her from behind, slowly slipped his left arm around her shoulder, and said in a teasingly playful voice, “Will you marry me?”
She says she turned to face Cosby, the hotel’s headline act.
He offered her – and only her – a free ticket to his show, she says. And when she was escorted backstage afterward to the green room, she remembers feeling that she was meant to stay as the 10 or so other people there made their goodbyes. Alone with the entertainer, she claims he approached her on a couch, held out his hand, “and he had two pills there, and a glass of water, and he told me to take them,” she tells PEOPLE.
The pills, she says, were Quaaludes. “He identified what they were; that’s how I knew,” she says. “At that point I didn’t know what to do, so I just obeyed. I just did it.”
“My next memory is I felt high; I don’t remember what happened in the meantime. Then my next memory is being in that vanity room, by that big mirror, and he didn’t have any clothes on, and obviously I didn’t either by that point. I don’t know how they got off. I don’t have that memory.”
They were, she says, in the midst of intercourse. “I was just like bent over, and he was saying all kinds of dirty stuff,” she says. “I felt powerless, I didn’t know what to do, and the drugs certainly enhanced that. That’s what I remember – having sex with him, not wanting to be there, not knowing how to get out of there.”
As allegations brought to light during that case have resurfaced, Cosby’s attorney, John P. Schmitt, has said Cosby will not address the “decade-old, discredited” claims. But their resurgence moves Serignese to ask for the apology she never received, and to regret that the earlier settlement briefly stilled voices such as hers.
“I was disappointed, I guess, because it was a chance to tell your story,” she says. “There was going to be 13 of us coming to testify. Of course it wouldn’t play out – it was Bill Cosby. He still had a lot of power.”
And now, years later?
“I think that people want him to acknowledge that he harmed women, he took sexual advantage of them, that he did do these wrongs to people,” she says. “We’re all older now. There’s not so much the fear that we’re going to be shamed, that we’re going to be humiliated, that basically we’re going to be accused of lying. At this point in life, you don’t care what other people think. It’s all about telling the truth and making him in some way accountable.
“He has to have a conscience. Internally I think he’s thinking about what he did all of his life. And internally I think he probably does feel bad. Is that enough for me? Yeah – that, and an apology.”
Serignese admits she continued to see Cosby after her initial encounter and later asked him for money. She says she was encouraged by her mother – now deceased – to call the star, which led to more show tickets and invitations to stay overnight in his hotel penthouse.
She says she can’t recall how many sexual encounters followed, or whether drugs were involved each time. But sex was not always expected, she says. There were dinners with Cosby and others, and she claims he gave her $200 to buy a dress. The non-sexual outings convinced her a friendship was taking root.
Then, two to four weeks after their first encounter, she says, “I remember thinking that I was pregnant, and telling him that. And then I got sent away.”
Contact stopped instantly, she says – until four years later, when she was again in Las Vegas, called him up, and he offered her a trip to Vail, Colorado, which she accepted and then skipped. Intermittent contact initiated by Serignese over the years ended in 1996, a time when she was struggling financially and physically from a car accident. By then she had completed college courses in nursing, and recalled that Cosby had once offered to pay her $500 for every “A” she earned.
In the last conversation between Serignese and Cosby – which was overheard and confirmed to PEOPLE by Serignese’s sister – Serignese reminded Cosby of his offer.
Serignese herself remembers: “I got off the phone, and I was crying so bad. He made me feel horrible, like I was trying to do something to him. That was not my intention. I didn’t say anything, just ‘You said this, you make good on it.’ That’s all that was said.”
The next day, she says, came a call from a secretary directing Serignese to a $10,000 wire transfer.
Serignese says she joined the lawsuit in 2006 and is speaking out now because “he hurt me. He changed the course of my life. He made me a victim. I felt powerless As much as I’ve heard him say that people go after him for his money and because of his fame, I think it’s the opposite. I think he uses his fame and fortune to come after people’s innocence.”