President Obama on Wednesday sidestepped the question of whether he would try to revoke the Medal of Freedom given to comedian Bill Cosby, but he delivered a terse condemnation of the actor’s alleged abuse of women that suggested a simmering anger over it.
“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 at a White House news conference. “And I think this country, any civilized country, should have no tolerance for rape.”
The president said there is “no precedent for revoking” the medal, the highest American honor a civilian can win. President George W. Bush awarded the medal to the entertainer in 2002.
More than two dozen women have publicly accused Cosby of sexual assault in recent years, but he has not been charged with a crime.
Several women who claim they were sexually assaulted by Cosby in the 1980s joined an effort this week to unseal a deposition he gave in 2005 in which he reportedly admitted giving a powerful sedative to women with whom he wanted to have sex.
Advocates fighting sexual violence have posted a petition on a White House website to urge Obama — the father of two daughters, one of whom is headed to college next year — to rescind Cosby’s presidential medal.
At the news conference in the East Room, American Urban Radio Network reporter April Ryan asked Obama if he would revoke Cosby’s honor.
The president grew solemn and pursed his lips, vowing not to comment on the “specifics of cases where there might still be, if not criminal, then civil issues involved.”
But then he paused and condemned the behavior of which Cosby has been accused.
Just a day prior, addressing the NAACP in Philadelphia, Obama spoke out against rape in prison, saying officials should take it seriously and that people should stop making jokes about it.
“We should not be tolerating rape in prison, and we shouldn’t be making jokes about it in our popular culture,” Obama told the NAACP. “That’s no joke. These things are unacceptable.”
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