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Cosby accusers sit for groundbreaking New York magazine cover shoot

Rebecca Bracken is a news and views writer.






Cosby's rape accusers allow themselves to be photographed for every American woman who can't

New York magazine gathered 35 women who have accused Bill Cosby of drugging and raping them for a groundbreaking cover story that tells their stories of assault at the hands of one of America's most beloved figures. Nothing will ever be the same again.

It’s such an unimaginable number of women who had been victimized by someone America celebrated that it was almost too much to really wrap your head around. The pain and trauma and violence so vast, it’s practically just too much to process.

MoreWhy didn't you know about Bill Cosby's rape allegations until now?

And then, New York magazine released this month’s issue featuring 35 of Cosby’s accusers on the cover, and it’s enough to take your breath away. The 36th empty chair is meant to symbolize the women who didn’t come forward and who remain silent victims. There it is. The evidence of Cosby’s decades of victimizing vulnerable women staring back at us. These are our mothers, sisters, aunties, wives, grandmothers and friends. And nothing will ever be the same again.

These women, ranging in age from their 20s to their 80s, are heroes. They are speaking out, showing their faces and giving other women a playbook for what it looks like when a victim stands up and tells their story. Because there aren’t a lot of role models in that department.

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According to Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, each year nearly 300,000 people are victims of sexual assault, the majority of which — 68 percent — will never report the crime to police. Why? Because reporting it does little but expose the victim to additional trauma. Victims aren’t believed even though research says only about 2 percent of reports of rape are false. Worse yet, only 2 percent of rapists ever spend a single day behind bars. Not super-great odds if you’re a rape victim looking for justice.

And many of the Cosby accusers experienced not being believed when they spoke out. Andrea Constand, Tamara Green and 12 other Jane Does came forward in 2005 to say that Cosby drugged and assaulted them, but as the New York magazine piece put it, “But they were met, mostly, with skepticism, threats and attacks on their character.”

And that’s the all-too-familiar story for most women who report a rape.

Constand’s account wasn’t taken seriously even when Cosby incredulously admitted to using quaaludes to get ladies to have sex with him in a legal deposition about the case. Constand eventually was paid off by Cosby, and the matter just disappeared. Until Hannibal Buress, a man, brought it up in his stand-up act, and the accusation suddenly went viral again. And the women started speaking out not so much to punish Cosby, since the statute of limitations had long since expired on Cosby’s crimes. No, these women spoke out for one another.

“I read Barbara Bowman’s piece in The Washington Post, how no one believed her, and I said, ‘This is it. I have to say something now,'” Joan Tarshis told New York magazine. “I have to stand up and say, ‘Yes. Somebody else does believe you, because it happened to me.’ … I knew I wasn’t ever gonna receive any money. I certainly didn’t want to be remembered as the woman that Bill Cosby raped. But I just felt so vindicated that I wasn’t alone.”

MoreBill Cosby rape accusations: A timeline of his career downfall

And thanks to these brave women, no rape victim has to feel alone ever again. These beautiful ladies, many in their 60s, survived Bill Cosby, and they’re here to show every other woman that they can survive too.

Cosby’s legacy as America’s sweater-wearing, lovable dad is gone. And in its place stands these women who, against a rich, powerful and popular man, found the strength to speak out in one another and for one another. And it’s our responsibility as women to keep their momentum going.

When a woman tells you she was raped, believe her. When you see a woman in a position of powerlessness, stand up for her. How different things might have been if one of the people in Cosby’s camp would have spoken out. How many of these women could have been spared their trauma?

These 35 women are here to remind us that we are our sisters’ keepers and the best chance we have at changing a culture that allowed a predator like Cosby to commit all of these alleged crimes. Today is a new day.

Bravo, ladies, and thank you.

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