Topless protester who confronted Bill Cosby once saw him as a ‘father figure’
Gilbert Carrasquillo/Getty Images(NORRISTOWN, Pa.) — As a child actor on “The Cosby Show,” Nicolle Rochelle says she looked up to Bill Cosby as a “father figure,” a mentor who offered her career advice and made her laugh on the set.
Rochelle, now 39, reintroduced herself to the 80-year-old Cosby this week when she charged after him during a solo topless protest outside a Pennsylvania courthouse, screaming the comedian’s famed Fat Albert catchphrase of “Hey, hey, hey” and adding her own motto, “Women’s lives matter!”
“Just like anyone else, he was the ‘father figure,'” Rochelle told ABC News of her stint as a young actress on “The Cosby Show” between 1990 and 1992. “He gave me advice about my career, my life. He was funny and he made jokes. He seemed like a nice guy. So I had nothing against him in particular. I had a good time.”
She said her opinion of Cosby drastically changed around 2015 when a cavalcade of women began coming forward to publicly accuse the man once known as “America’s Dad” of drugging and sexually assaulting them.
“I felt angry … and I felt sad for everyone involved,” Rochelle told ABC News. “I felt slightly betrayed.”
Cosby has adamantly denied the accusations and his attorneys blasted the women accusing him as liars out for money.
“For me, it was also a matter of a numbers game,” said Rochelle, an Ivy League graduate of Brown University with a degree in linguistic anthropology. “For me it was very logical to believe the victims. Doing the research, it’s only 5 to 10 percent of rape victims that ever lie. How is that possible that all the women are lying? It actually isn’t possible.”
The Making a Difference Project, a study undertaken by the organization End Violence Against Women International, looked at 2,059 cases in the U.S. and Canada and found only 7 percent could be classified as false.
About the same time new accusers seemed to be coming out against Cosby on a daily basis, Rochelle joined Femen, an international feminist activist group founded in the Ukraine in 2008 to protest dictatorships and patriarchy.
Rochelle, who was born Nicole Leach and raised in New Jersey, said she had moved to Paris, where she continued her acting career, taking on the role of Josephine Baker in the 2006 play “Looking for Josephine.”
“I always wanted to be an activist. That’s why I was attracted to the role of Josephine Baker,” Rochelle said of the American-born entertainer and civil rights activist. “When I was very young, I followed her life story and I thought to myself, ‘I want to be like this woman.’ Now, I’m finally realizing the dream.”
She said that she planned the Cosby protest for several months with members of Femen.
“Protesting Bill Cosby was important for us because he is a man who has been disempowering women’s bodies for decades and in being naked. … I was symbolically taking back the ownership of all the victims’ bodies and redefining it as a political tool as opposed to a sexual object,” Rochelle said.
She said she arrived at the Norristown courthouse early on Monday, the first day of Cosby’s retrial. In June, a judge declared a mistrial when the jury in the first trial could not reach a verdict.
“I wanted to arrive there and assess the situation,” she said. “And I got there … and actually I was surprised at the lack of the amount of people. I thought there’d be more people.”
She said that before she got to the courthouse, a friend helped her paint her body with the words, “Women’s lives matter,” “Cosby” and “Rapist.” She also had the names of the women who have accused Cosby of sexual assault written on her torso.
“The goal was not to attack Cosby in any way or to physically touch him, but I wanted to get slightly close to him so that he could hear the message and be uncomfortable with the truth of that message,” Rochelle said.
As Cosby approached the courthouse with his legal team, Rochelle ripped off her leather jacket, jumped a police barricade and charged after Cosby topless.
“Hey, hey, hey!” she said she yelled. “Women’s lives matter. Convict Cosby. Rapist.”
Police and sheriff’s deputy quickly stopped Rochelle before she could reach Cosby and hurled her into a bush. She was taken away in handcuffs, charged with disorderly conduct and released with a summons. She was warned not to come back, she said.
Cosby’s spokesman, Andrew Wyatt, who was escorting Cosby into the court when Rochelle jumped in front of them, said her topless protest was misguided.
“That’s not about the victims, that’s about yourself and if you are going to protest rape, you shouldn’t rip your clothes off,” Wyatt told ABC News.
Rochelle said she’s satisfied that she made her point.
“I wanted to be sort of the messenger for those women that weren’t able to express their anger and their pain in anyway or in that way,” she told ABC News. “I wanted to be a voice for the victims first and foremost.”
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