'The Case Against Cosby': Raw, emotional Andrea Constand documentary gets honest about trauma

"As a society, as a culture we can't turn our backs against what trauma looks like," Andrea Constand says.

Andrea Constand in
Andrea Constand in "The Case Against Cosby."

Of the 60 women who have come forward to say they were assaulted by former TV icon Bill Cosby, Andrea Constand's case was the only one that went to trial.

Now, Constand is telling her story — including her healing journey — in a new documentary, The Case Against Cosby, with director Karen Wookey (on CBC and CBC Gem Sunday, Jan. 8).

Working at Temple University in Philadelphia at the time, with the women's basketball team, Constand met Cosby in the early 2000s. They would talk about her career and she had been invited to his home on multiple occasions.

In 2004, Constand went to Cosby's home to talk about her career, possibly moving into sports broadcasting, and he gave her pills to "take the edge off." As Constand states in the documentary, Cosby then sexually assaulted her.

"I just had the most sickening feeling when I got up," Constand says in the film.

"The Case Against Cosby"
"The Case Against Cosby"

'That was like our trauma bond'

The Case Against Cosby documents the events of 2004 and what led to the resulting court case, including Constand discovering that she was not alone in her experience with "America's Dad." But a significant part of the story is confronting the impact of sexual trauma with physician and best-selling author Gabor Maté.

"I did know that it was important to tell it in a way that people could actually view it and see it, and see this healing in motion," Constand told Yahoo Canada. "It's one thing to kind of talk about meeting your survivor sisters in court and all those things, of shaking their hand, but doing the actual work together, that was something that Karen [Wookey] and I really shared."

During this trauma retreat in British Columbia with six women who had come forward with personal stories of sexual assault by Cosby, Maté stresses the importance of understanding what trauma really is as a necessary step towards healing.

"It's really uncomfortable. It's really, really painful," Constand said. "I get emotional just sitting here thinking about a couple of the women who had never done any therapy in their lives, and what it was like to be there and to hold their hands."

"There were moments, literally, where Dr. Gabor led me right down the rabbit hole into looking at myself and why I am the way that I am, ... why I feel the way I feel or don't feel."

Constand remembers a time during the retreat where she went outside, feeling a lump in her throat after one of Maté's exercises, and she put her hands out and laid on the ground.

"I stayed there for like five minutes just saying, 'I get it,'" Constand revealed. "I get it and this hurts so much, and that's what healing looks like."

As we see in the documentary, there's great power in this larger support system of women.

"It was very profound to go through it with the women ... who had been through even more than I had been through, maybe earlier in life, and we had different experiences," Constand said. "But the one common thread that we had was our traumatic experiences with Bill Cosby, and that was like our trauma bond."

"That was why we were there doing this work, but it was so much bigger than just that. ... I just sit here so much more of a clearer person and just a better channel to be able to do the work that I do, which is really just to support survivors and give them a community and a healing space."

Bill Cosby accuser Andrea Constand (left) embraces prosecutor Kristen Feden during a news conference after Cosby was found guilty in his sexual assault retrial in Norristown, Pa., on April 26, 2018. Pennsylvania's highest court has overturned comedian Cosby's sex assault conviction. The court said on June 30, 2021 that they found an agreement with a previous prosecutor prevented him from being charged in the case. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)

'Maybe we're ready to be uncomfortable'

For filmmaker Karen Wookey, she stressed that it's important to make the audience feel "uncomfortable" in this film. But that was a concerning aspect for some, as she worked to get this documentary made.

"I thought it was really important to make an audience uncomfortable because that's the only way you really wake anybody up," Wookey said.

"In the first few cuts it was interesting what made people uncomfortable, different things made different people uncomfortable. ... There really was a vision of like, each one of those women were so different that someone in an audience is going to relate to one of those women, or something about a few of them."

Wookey added that, as Gabor Maté puts it, the world is trauma-phobic, but maybe we're seeing some change.

"That's changing now, that's why his books are suddenly exploding and suddenly people are ready to listen, and maybe we're ready to be uncomfortable," she said.

As Constand stresses, a simple message that comes from this film is that "we have to start paying attention."

"With the #MeToo movement ... you have a massive wave of coming forward and disclosing what happened to you, and I really feel like as a society, as a culture, we can't turn our backs against what trauma looks like," she said. "There are so many people that are suffering in silence out there and we do ourselves a disservice, humanity does itself a disservice, when we look at something uncomfortable or traumatic, and we turn our back on it."

"We can't do that anymore. Survivors and advocates and people who are out there doing the work understand how uncomfortable this work is. But the only way we get to the other side of it is to move through it. We can't jump through it. We can't jump over anything. ... Not doing the work makes us physically sick."

Andrea Constand in
Andrea Constand in "The Case Against Cosby."

'Tell someone'

As The Case Against Cosby depicts, there are several systemic barrier in place for the women coming forward with their personal stories about Cosby, or sexual assault, more broadly. There's an assumption that every detail will be remembered, women will tell police right away, but it's well documented that that's not the case when someone experiences this trauma.

Going one step further, we don't even have a clear and concrete legal definition of consent to hold perpetrators of these acts accountable.

"We have to start defining consent," Constand said. "There is no definition in many states in the United States of consent, so there's massive confusion around that."

"Harvey Weinstein was confused about what consent was and I'm sure Bill Cosby was too, he didn't even really even care. Weinstein was confused but Cosby didn't even care about consent."

She highlighted that in Canada, consent is "very loosely defined" and we have to take action, like voting for local legislators who want to push for a clear legal definition of consent.

"Big changes are not going to happen until we see laws changed," Constand said.

She's also urging anyone who has experienced assault to not stay silent.

"Don't keep secrets," Constand stressed. "If something happened to you and somebody was inappropriate with you, don't wait, let somebody know. Tell your doctor. Tell your mother. Tell your father."

It's a message Constand believes in so strongly that she even has "tell someone" tattooed on her arm.

"Be courageous, you're not alone," she said. "I just think that they need to know they're not alone, and to not be ashamed.

"I think a lot of that shame comes from the control in the end. When a perpetrator hurts you, you feel shame, you feel humiliated. It keeps you silent, it works. The shame keeps you silent. It keeps you kind of in a state where you're not empowered, you're disempowered."

Cosby was found guilty and designated a "sexually violent predator" in 2018, sentenced to three to 10 years in prison.

In 2021, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned the conviction and he was released. In December of last year, Cosby was sued for sexual assault by five women.