The Empty Chair

New York Magazine’s July 26th article features the profiles of 35 of the current 46 women who came forward accusing Bill Cosby of sexual assault. The empty chair is for all the men and women in the world who haven’t reported their own stories.

New York Magazine’s July 26th article features the profiles of 35 of the current 46 women who came forward accusing Bill Cosby of sexual assault. The empty chair is for all the men and women in the world who haven’t reported their own stories.

The best thing you can do this week is set aside a block of time to read New York Magazine’s package of interviews with 35 of the 46 women (so far) who have come forward about being assaulted by Bill Cosby. These interviews are raw, emotional, and necessary to understanding the damages of rape.

The cover shows black and white portraits of these 35 women, all bonded by the horrors of their assaults from one man, and their need to report the crimes decades after these crimes happened. But these women’s stories just brush the surface of the real issue, because it took DECADES for someone to take them seriously. Decades.

The first paragraph to the article highlights how Hannibal Buress called Cosby a rapist in October 2014, and consistently reminds us that it took a man to point this out before authorities started taking the women seriously. And because of statute of limitations, legal deliberations, and a strong, yet sometimes infuriating backlash from his lawyers, Cosby is still walking around a free man while more and more women come forward.

So my thought: How is this ok? How is it possible for these women to go so long without being heard? And for the ones who were brave enough to come forward, why did it take so long for someone to believe them? And why haven’t we done more to bring justice?

On July 27, 2015, Vulture released a detailed timeline of allegations against Cosby, which shockingly begins with Andrea Constand in 2002, even though since her allegations have come forward, more and more women have found the strength to report their cases that occurred back in the 1960s and 70s. Sexual assault is something that takes tremendous courage to come forward with, and as we’ve seen with these women, it’s also something that unfortunately isn’t taken seriously.

Social media has played a significant role in the war against Cosby. Since more and more allegations have become public, news outlets and readers alike are taking to the Internet to spread the word. Many organizations are breaking affiliations with Cosby, and TV networks are cancelling deals left and right. But even with the negative attention Cosby has earned, he still refuses to admit fault. Which is why it is so, SO important to keep the victims in mind—we have to change how our society deals with rape.

Since the article dropped on July 26, I’ve read every account, watched the videos, and between the emotions of disgust, fear, and disbelief, the emotion I conveyed the most is anger. I’m angry that these women had to live with the effects of their assault—living with the shame, the fear, and the pain that crippled them from coming forward sooner. And because no one believed them for so long, it’s taken an immense amount of courage to break from that fear and finally bring—what’s the word I’m looking for—closure?, a state of peace? to their pain.

While every bit of text in this series is important, what strikes me most is the empty chair—the symbol for every sexual assault that hasn’t been reported ever (not just in the case of Cosby). The chair is for the people still living with that reality. And with the hashtag #TheEmptyChair, we’re beginning to see more stories come forward from all around the world, empowering victims of sexual assault to know that we are listening, and there is help out there.

Sexual assault and rape, are difficult to overcome. For many men and women, they fear coming forward. Maybe they blame themselves. Maybe they are afraid of how it will impact their lives after. Whatever the case is, it does not excuse the aggressor. Rape, is rape, is rape, and no matter how long it takes for you to report it. No matter what the case, if it was not consensual, if it was not welcomed, it’s not ok.

So please, take the time to read these women’s stories. It shows that we are listening, that we are here to help and to bring change to the rape culture so many are still hesitant to address. Because they should all be allowed to live in peace.

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Caitlyn Jenner and the Big Picture

Caitlyn Jenner made her debut on the cover of Vanity Fair's July 2015 issue.

Caitlyn Jenner made her debut on the cover of Vanity Fair’s July 2015 issue.

I wanted to start off my blog with a bang. For a few days, I struggled to find a topic that would be worth discussing. That is, until I remembered that Caitlyn Jenner’s new docu-series ‘I Am Cait’ premiered last night. Say what you will about this quoted ‘royal family,’ but when it comes to the topic to transgender rights, I’m happy to see it getting such a big spotlight.

First, I want to address the argument that Caitlyn’s very public transition is yet another Kardashian ploy. Yes, the launch of this new docu-series is very Kardashian, and it had it moments of shameless plugs (we could have done without Cait’s sister pointing out Kanye’s sneakers), but to see a topic that is still widely misunderstood get this kind of publicity, I think, can only do good. Transgender, as a whole, is something that I personally did not fully understand at first. I didn’t know any transgender men or women growing up. It wasn’t a topic of conversation in my everyday life. For the most part, we are unaware of what a transgender individual goes through, the struggle to decide to make the transition, to discuss how you feel with your family members, and to still have to endure the bullying and criticism of society outside your personal life. It wasn’t until I got older, and started to become more involved in the LGBT community, that I began to understand what it means to be transgender. I may not be transgender, so I cannot speak for the community specifically, but I can support it, and continue to help spread my education on the topic as best I can.

Now the situation is changing, and to have a public figure like Caitlyn Jenner, who has never had an issue being in front of the camera, use her own story to educate and inspire, I think is a wonderful thing. I know that some conversations mentioned that ‘I Am Cait’ would be all makeup and hair, but Caitlyn Jenner dove right into the important things about her transition.

“What I want is to create understanding so the next person doesn’t have to be like me and hide,” Jenner said.

This first episode centered around meeting Caitlyn—the focal point being the first time Cait’s mother came to the house to meet Caitlyn, and discussing how her sister, her children, etc. reacted, supported, and dealt with this transition now that she is public about it. For the most part, the message was very positive. Caitlyn’s mother, while still visually struggling, was still positive. She essentially said it would be an adjustment, but by the end of the episode she said that she was more proud of Caitlyn now than ever before.

A comment here—not all transgender individuals are so lucky. One of their first steps is to explain to their family and friends about their decision, and people are not always as receptive. Like I said before, the topic of transgender is still fairly unknown, and we, as humans, tend to fear what we don’t know, and channel that fear into criticism. Instead, we need to work more to be open to learning about it, and to offer the support your transgender loved ones seek from you. (This is good point to mention John Oliver’s 16-minute monologue about transgender rights. He really got it correct, in my opinion.)

For Caitlyn’s kids, she mentioned that some were still struggling with the new life. I loved it how she mentioned by name Lady Gaga, Elton John, and Miley Cyrus for their public support, not for her sake, but for the sake of her children. However, while all of her children offered support, Caitlyn said that some still hadn’t come to meet her in person. Others, like Kim Kardashian, who Caitlyn said during her first interview with Diane Sawyer was one of her biggest supporters, has visited her regularly since she told her family about her decision. We saw that support again last night, when Kim and Kanye stopped by.

After getting a first glimpse into Cait’s new life, she got to the bigger picture. As a spokesperson for the transgender community, Caitlyn wants to help find a way for the younger generations in the community to find comfort, acceptance, and understanding in the world. Unfortunately, the transgender community faces so much ridicule that it has led to suicide for many, something that should never happen. Caitlyn met with the mother of one individual—a 14 year old—who had killed herself because of the difficulties she had living in society. The scene was one of the more emotional ones of the night because it gave us a glimpse beyond the happy-dappy life that Caitlyn has portrayed in her own story.

I’m interested to see how this docu-series will progress. It’s clear that most of the show will center around Cait, but I hope she continues to shed light on the bigger picture. Right now, understanding transgender rights is at the forefront of discussion. With more pop culture stars, shows, etc. using the topic to educate people, it’s allowing non-transgender people to gain a better understanding and to react with more compassion and grace than in the past. After all, the first thing we have to do is remember that these are people, and they deserve only happiness.