For all of the survivors of sexual assault who are brave enough to come forward with their stories, there are many more who aren't able to speak up. A new hashtag is giving a voice to those voiceless survivors.
This past Sunday, New York Magazine published a powerful cover story, with an equally powerful image. The magazine interviewed 35 of the 46 women who have come forward accusing comedian Bill Cosby of sexual assault. The chilling cover features the 35 women sitting in four rows of chairs, but the last chair -- the 36th chair -- is empty.
The empty chair symbolizes all the survivors of sexual assault who aren't able to come forward with their stories.
Whether it's out of fear of not being believed, fear of any repercussions from an attacker or the distress of going through the harrowing process of speaking up -- far too many people metaphorically sit in #TheEmptyChair.
Elon James White, CEO of "This Week In Blackness," started the hashtag on Sunday, July 26 with other Twitter users, including writer Brienne Of Snarth and The Cut social media editor Ella Cerón, weighing in on the conversation.
The hashtag set off an important conversation on social media about silent survivors of sexual assault, and rape culture in the U.S. With nearly one in five women (or 23 million women) and one in 33 men raped in their lifetimes, #TheEmptyChair speaks to the many women and men who have never -- and will never -- tell their stories publicly.
As Janet Mock tweeted shortly after the NYMag cover came out: "#TheEmptyChair signals the women who couldn't come forward mostly b/c we, as a culture, wouldn't believe them."
White began receiving direct messages from survivors of sexual assault telling their stories. He tweeted out the DMs with permission from the survivors, sharing the (*trigger warning*) painful and harrowing stories of those sitting in #TheEmptyChair.
Many others took to Twitter to share their own feelings about #TheEmptyChair. The resulting tweets provide chilling commentary on rape culture, sexual assault and the all-too-common experience of being a survivor in a culture where people are primed to think you're lying.
Below are 16 tweets that remind us how many people actually sit in #TheEmptyChair.
Head over to Twitter to read more stories from #TheEmptyChair.
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