President Barack Obama said Wednesday he is not able to revoke Bill Cosby’s Presidential Medal of Freedom, but he used the issue to speak out against rape.
Cosby was awarded the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President George W. Bush in 2002. Now some lawmakers, a sexual assault survivor organization and other Americans have petitioned the White House to revoke it in light of allegations that he is a serial rapist who drugged women.
“I'll say this. If you give a woman — or a man, for that matter — without his or her knowledge a drug, and then have sex with that person without consent, that's rape,” Obama said when asked at a White House news conference about Cosby and the reports that he drugged women. “And I think this country, any civilized country should have no tolerance for rape.”
Obama said there is no mechanism for revoking the medal. He declined to comment on the investigation of Cosby, who has not been charged and denies the allegations.
Cosby said in a 2005 deposition that he obtained prescriptions of a sedative to give to women he wanted to have sex with, though he did not say whether it was with their knowledge. The documents were released by a Pennsylvania court last week.
Angela Rose, executive director of PAVE: Promoting Awareness | Victim Empowerment, which has enlisted more than 10,000 people to support revoking Cosby’s medal, said after the news conference that Obama could still revoke the medal.
“By President Obama’s own definition, Bill Cosby is a rapist,” she said. “The Medal of Freedom embodies our nation’s values. Allowing Cosby to maintain this coveted symbol suggests that we as a society support coercive sexual behavior.”
Rose said she will ask the president and First Lady Michelle Obama to meet with her and other supporters of the effort.
“The President said there is no precedent for revoking the Medal of Freedom, but there’s also no precedent for the nation giving its highest honor to a man accused by dozens of women and admitting to obtaining drugs to people he wanted to have sex with. That this an unprecedented action is the point — we need to show zero tolerance for sexual assault,” she said.