Last night the cover for New York magazine’s issue featuring the stories of 35 of the women raped by Bill Cosby dropped and it left many, myself included, shaken to our cores. The black & white cover, pictured below, features the 35 women and an empty chair symbolic of the women who have yet to come forward. I only read two of the accounts before turning away from it because it was just too heavy but I couldn’t escape it as #TheEmptyChair became a trending discussion on Twitter last night.
I stand with every women or girl sitting in #TheEmptyChair right now. Your resilience is beyond measure.
— Michael Skolnik (@MichaelSkolnik) July 27, 2015
— Rev. Glen de Decatúr (@dstarwriter59) July 27, 2015
There are so many empty chairs. Not only the empty chairs in the Cosby situation but empty chairs in general for the countless number of women who have yet to come forward, report their rape, and share their story. To put some weight on an already heavy story I’d like to share some numbers that, once I saw them, I could not unsee them.
A Department of Justice report on rape indicates that for every white woman who reports her rape, five don’t and for every black woman who reports her rape, 15 don’t. Taking those numbers and applying them to this cover to determine the potential number of empty chairs we would end up with approximately 220 empty chairs. That’s 220 unreported incidents of sexual violence against women. 220 stories never told. 220 women still bound by their captors even though their captors have long left them. The trauma that women face after sexual violence remains with them long after their abusers have left the side of the bed, room, the dark alley, the bathroom, and every other domain where sexual violence occurs. Even a story told does not remove the memory and the trauma but for those who are brave enough to come forward it starts them on the process toward healing. But there are at least 220 empty chairs out there that may never be filled which means there are women who may never find any semblance of peace, healing, and wholeness. Though we can proclaim that they are not what happened to them it is what happened to them that is keeping them silent.
It is my hope that women who have yet to sit in the chair will be encouraged not only by the 34 women on this week’s cover but that they will also be encouraged by the scores of people, myself included, who believe and support them. Even though I don’t see you, I want you to know that you are seen. Even though you haven’t spoken, I hear you. Until then, I pray for peace in the midst of this storm and for your courage to come forward at the right time for you. Know that there is no statute of limitation on your freedom and recovery so whenever you do come forward–whether within the ridiculous limits of our legal system or not–freedom and wholeness are there for the taking. Also, until then:
— unsuicide (@unsuicide) July 27, 2015
And for those of you have who have come forward, particularly those who were courageous enough to come out on the cover, I will honor you and read your story. Thank you for your courage.