US & Canada

Bill Cosby sex assault case: Five questions answered

Bill Cosby leaving court Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Mr Cosby has maintained that his sexual encounters were consensual

Bill Cosby is to stand trial for alleged sexual assault, a judge in Pennsylvania has ruled. After months of allegations from dozens of women, how did we get to this point?

Who is Bill Cosby?

Bill Cosby is an American comedian and actor best known for his role as the father in the television hit The Cosby Show which ran from 1984 to 1992 and was a huge hit in the US and around the globe.

At one point he was the highest-paid actor in the US.

He was born on a council estate in Philadelphia and started his career as a stand-up comedian in 1962, debuting on NBC's The Tonight Show in 1963.

In 1965, he became the first black actor to star in a drama series in the US, in the espionage show I Spy. He earned three consecutive best actor Emmys for his role, at a time of high race tensions in the US.

The Cosby Show was described by TV critics as "transformational piece of American culture". He portrayed a doctor called Cliff Huxtable raising five children with his wife. By 1989, he was earning $4m (£2.5m) a month in syndication rights alone.

In 2013 he did a national stand-up tour and received rave reviews. After that, several women began to come forward with allegations of sexual assault, some going back nearly 30 years.

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What will he stand trial for?

He will stand trial for his charge of three counts of felony indecent assault, alleged by a former colleague, Andrea Constand.

It is the only criminal case Mr Cosby faces related to sexual assault accusations dating back years. A trial date has not been set but he will be arraigned on 20 July.

Ms Constand, a former employee of Temple University who now lives in Canada, has said that she came to think of Mr Cosby as a "mentor and a friend" before she said he made unwanted sexual advances.

She went to visit him at his home in 2004 to discuss her career and her future where she said he drugged and sexually assaulted her.

A criminal complaint unsealed last year details the encounter.

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She and Mr Cosby settled a lawsuit in 2006 and she was paid an undisclosed sum.

Prosecutors re-opened her case last summer when they realised the statute of limitations had not run out and after other women had come forward.

What else has he been accused of?

Image copyright AP
Image caption Ms Goins said she was drugged by Mr Cosby at the Playboy Mansion

In other states, he faces defamation lawsuits for branding his accusers liars. Over the years, nearly 60 women have come forward accusing Mr Cosby of sexual assault.

Last summer, 35 of those women told their stories to New York Magazine.

Women told the magazine their stories of alleged assault at the Playboy Mansion, their own apartments and even in public.

In another case, a woman named Judy Huth alleged that Mr Cosby molested her when she was 15 years old, forcing her to perform a sexual act on him at the Playboy mansion in Los Angeles.

Criminal charges were not filed against Mr Cosby because of the statute of limitations. His lawyers called her claims discredited or decades old.

In another prominent case, a 25-year-old model named Chloe Goins sued Mr Cosby for sexual assault at the Playboy Mansion she says happened in 2008.

She sought criminal charges but prosecutors decline to pursue them.

No charges for Cosby over LA sex claims

What is his defence?

He has maintained that the sexual encounters were consensual.

In Ms Constand's case, he said she never said no though she never said yes either.

A deposition for her case showed that he admitted pursuing sex with younger women and giving them Quaaludes.

He said he was confident his behaviour was not rape.

The New York Times described the deposition as presenting Mr Cosby as "as an unapologetic, cavalier playboy, someone who used a combination of fame, apparent concern and powerful sedatives in a calculated pursuit of young women".

Why are we hearing about this now?

Ms Constand's case is the only one that has fallen within the statute of limitations, a US law that shields people from prosecution after a certain time period by imposing an expiry date for allegations of crimes.

The law varies from state to state in the US, with 34 states having statutes of limitations. Time limits range from three to 30 years.

By comparison, the UK, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia have no sexual abuse limitations.