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New York Magazine cover powerfully depicts 35 of Bill Cosby's alleged victims

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Last night, New York Magazine published one of their most powerful cover stories to date - interviews with 35 of the 46 women who have accused Bill Cosby of sexually assaulting them. 

The striking black and white front cover of the magazine shows a huge variety of women aged between their twenties and their eighties, including supermodel Janice Dickinson as well as waitresses, journalists and Playboy bunnies, sitting on chairs beside each other, above the dates they allege Cosby assaulted them.

Perhaps most poignantly of all, next to the 35 women sits an empty chair - a symbol for all the potential victims who have not yet had the courage to come forward and speak about their ordeal. 

While 78-year-old Cosby denies any wrongdoing and has not been charged with any crimes, the investigation into his alleged assaults has gained pace over the last year, with several more women coming forward with strikingly similar stories of a mentor abusing his power, and a deposition released to the public last week showing that in 2005, the actor admitted to acquiring Quaaludes in order to have sex with women.

The story, written by Noreen Malone, details how helpless  accusers felt, believing that even if they had spoken out earlier, no one would have thought their story to be true. 

"I felt like a prisoner; I felt like I was kidnapped and hiding in plain sight," Barbara Bowman told the magazine. "I could have walked down any street in Manhattan at any time and said: 'I'm being raped and drugged by Bill Cosby,' but who the hell would have believed me? Nobody, nobody."

Lili Bernard, who went public in May, said: “In the early 1990s, in my mid-20s, Bill Cosby mentored me. He gained my total trust and then he drugged me without my knowledge. He raped me. I wouldn’t call him crazy… I felt that he was very much in control of his behaviour.”

The magazine, which took six months to realise this project, used their powerful cover story to illustrate the importance of assault victims speaking up and telling their story. 

"The group of women Cosby allegedly assaulted functions almost as a longitudinal study both for how an individual woman, on her own, deals with such trauma over the decades and for how the culture at large has grappled with rape over the same time period," the article read.

"In the 60s, when the first alleged assault by Cosby occurred, rape was considered to be something violent committed by a stranger... But among younger women, and particularly online, there is a strong sense now that speaking up is the only thing to do, that a woman claiming her own victimhood is more powerful than any other weapon in the fight against rape."

In some US states, there is a statute of limitations on rape cases - effectively an expiry date for allegations of crime - so in Cosby's case, as many of the accusations against him date back to the 1970s and 1980s, it is too long ago in the eyes of the law to open up a case.

The cover story was positively received across social media, with New York's website crashing due to the widespread demand to see the story. The magazine took to Twitter to share some of Cosby's accusers' quotes:

The powerful image of the empty chair in the magazine's cover quickly generated a hashtag - #TheEmptyChair - and trended across Twitter as social media users shared their views on the striking image, which represents all the victims of sexual abuse who feel that they are unable or powerless to speak out against sexual abuse and rape.

Let's hope that strong campaigns like these will give those victims in the empty chair the courage to speak out against their attackers.

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