#TheEmptyChair Highlights Why Some Women Stay Silent About Sexual Assault
New York magazine’s website was attacked by hackers shortly after it published a feature on Bill Cosby’s accusers Sunday night. But thanks to the women who bravely shared their stories, conversations about sexual assault and its damaging cultural stigma have skyrocketed on social media.
The magazine’s cover, which features black-and-white portraits of 35 of the 46 women who have publicly accused the comedian and Cosby Show actor of rape or sexual assault, visibly and plainly illustrates the sheer volume of women who have come forward. They have power in numbers—and yet, when many of them shared their stories individually, they were brushed aside, shamed, or branded as pariahs.
Silenced no longer, the women were photographed seated in four rows that fill the entirety of the magazine cover, but perhaps the most striking aspect of the image is what’s left to the imagination. An empty chair at the bottom of the cover represents the sexual assault survivors who have yet to come forward, because, as Janet Mock put it on Twitter, “we, as a culture, wouldn’t believe them.”
Mock and hundreds of others on Twitter are using the hashtag #TheEmptyChair to honor survivors of sexual assault and talk about the culture of shaming that encourages some women to keep silent about their abusers for fear of social backlash.
A sexual assault takes place every 107 seconds in America, but 68 percent of them go unreported to police, according to statistics by the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. The anti–sexual violence organization estimates that about half of rapists are a friend or acquaintance, and 98 percent will never spend a day behind bars.
But in the 1960s, “when the first alleged assault by Cosby occurred, rape was considered to be something violent committed by a stranger,” wrote New York reporter Noreen Malone. In the decades since, she continued, younger women have given something to Cosby’s accusers: “a model for how to speak up, and a megaphone in the form of social media.” #TheEmptyChair has become a megaphone all its own.
#theemptychair symbolizes that for every woman that can come forward, there are many more who can't. Very moving.— Elle Ess (@ViaMarsala18) July 27, 2015
#TheEmptyChair is a perfect visual for all the sexually assaulted people who couldn't be heard for whatever reason— Dr Tanta Tinycat (@drtantatinycat) July 27, 2015
If I wasnt clear let me clarify: I do NOT blame survivors for not speaking. I blame society for not supporting them. https://t.co/nyJb5D85DX— Elon James White (@elonjames) July 27, 2015
Do not wait for a man to speak to believe women who are already talking. Nothing to add. #TheEmptyChair— Jamil Smith (@JamilSmith) July 27, 2015
I stand with every women or girl sitting in #TheEmptyChair right now. Your resilience is beyond measure.— Michael Skolnik (@MichaelSkolnik) July 27, 2015
Your sisters, your daughters, your mother, your friends and the men in your life are sitting in #TheEmptyChair— Mirah Atabaki (@mirahwood) July 27, 2015
To anyone in #TheEmptyChair - you are more than what happened to you. You are loved. You are believed. You are heard.— Kate Stickel (@KateStickel) July 27, 2015