But the 35 women who appeared on the front cover of this week’s New York magazine can share one singular solace: They finally had the chance to tell their stories and be believed. As one of the women interviewed put it, that fact alone gives them some measure of freedom from the nightmare. Other victims may never even get even that chance — which is why NYMag included a single empty chair alongside Cosby's accusers.
#TheEmptyChair holds a place for the stories of victims who have been silent about their abuse, both honoring their struggle and shining a light on the fact that, so often, sexual abuse goes unaddressed. Rape culture is real: Every 107 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. Sixty-eight percent of those assaults go unreported. Women rightly fear re-traumatization and stigma — or that they won't be believed at all. #TheEmptyChair may be the hashtag du jour, but it's also a signal to sexual abuse survivors enduring their struggle silently that there is a place for them in this conversation and that their experience matters.
Stories have come pouring in across the Internet and the hashtag has galvanized a discussion about sexual abuse that goes far beyond the scope of the Cosby scandal. The fact that we're having this conversation in such a public way counts as progress. It's buoying to see survivors and supporters gather to shed light on the subjects of rape and subjugation.
As for what kind of impact it will have on the real-life safety of women, the proof will be in the pudding — or, in the case of Cosby's alleged victims, what inevitably happens to the Jell-O pudding man. Giving women a platform to be heard is one thing; showing them that justice will be served is the next step and another thing entirely.
So far, 46 women have come forward to accuse Bill Cosby of sexual assault, in some cases, according to a recently unsealed deposition, with the aid of quaaludes—a powerful sedative that can render a person functionally immobile. But these allegations are by no means new, with some stretching back decades—to a time when the culture of rape in America left victims little recourse but to suffer silently, and in shame. Today, the way we think and talk about rape has evolved, creating a safer space for survivors to feel empowered by speaking up and reclaiming their victimhood. And that’s led us here. Of the 46 women who have come forward to accuse Cosby, we spoke to 35 of them — “a sorrowful sisterhood” of women united by their dark experiences, steadfast in their resolve to remain silent no more. Read more: nymag.com/cosby-women. | 📷: Amanda Demme #theemptychair