NORRISTOWN, Pa. — The topless protester who leaped over a barricade and ran toward Bill Cosby at the start of his sexual assault retrial on Monday is an actress who appeared on the comedian's family sitcom "The Cosby Show" as a child.
Nicolle Rochelle, a member of European feminist group Femen, which is known for staging topless protests, said she wanted to send a message to the 80-year-old comedian.
"The main goal was to make Cosby uncomfortable because that is exactly what he has been doing for decades to women," she told reporters after her release from custody.
Rochelle, of Little Falls, New Jersey, had the names of more than 50 of Cosby's accusers scrawled on her body, along with the words "Women's Lives Matter," when she ran in front of Cosby toward a bank of TV cameras outside the suburban Philadelphia courthouse. She was taken down by sheriff's deputies and charged with disorderly conduct.
Her protest came ahead of opening statements in a case that pits Cosby against a former Temple University women's basketball official who says the comedian drugged and molested her in 2004. He says the encounter was consensual.
Rochelle, who guest-starred on several episodes of "The Cosby Show" more than 25 years ago, said she didn't have any bad experiences with Cosby when she was on the show, nor did she intend to physically hurt him on Monday.
"I wanted him to feel something. I wanted him to feel what he did and have it be in his face," said Rochelle, who has been living in Paris. "I wanted to approach him, but I didn't want to touch him at all."
Authorities told Rochelle to stay away from the courthouse, a warning she said she will heed.
The actress, singer and dancer's activist group Femen, which got its start in Ukraine a decade ago, regularly stages topless protests against religious institutions, far-right politicians and other targets seen as oppressing women.
The group has been re-energized by the #MeToo movement against sexual misconduct. Paris-based Femen leader Inna Shevchenko said Femen has a presence in eight countries.
Femen activists target their unauthorized protests — which have been staged at the Vatican, in front of Russian President Vladimir Putin and elsewhere — to attract as much media attention as possible. That media obsession, and the members' use of their breasts as a protest tool, has drawn criticism from feminist groups and others who see Femen protests as a distraction.
Femen argues that its actions are more effective than officially sanctioned protests.
"When a woman is nude, it usually attracts attention, and that was definitely the goal," Rochelle said. "To attract attention to the fact that women are not laying down peacefully and taking this kind of treatment, and that people are against Cosby."
Cosby's first trial ended in a mistrial. The case has helped demolish his image as America's Dad, cultivated during his eight-year run as kindly Dr. Cliff Huxtable on the top-rated "The Cosby Show" in the 1980s and '90s.