New York has collected the photographs and firsthand accounts of 35 of the 46 women who allege Bill Cosby raped them. They range in age from 44 to 80.
In an essay accompanying the piece, Noreen Malone explains:
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 first assumption was that women who accused famous men were after money or attention. As Cosby allegedly told some of his victims: No one would believe you. So why speak up?
The portraits, photographed by Amanda Demme, concisely drive home the point. The women’s physical presence silences anyone who might still have a shred of doubt—as a collection of real faces, real women courageous enough to speak out, the allegations metastasize, become more tangible than headlines. No one can deny their multitudes, and the sheer horror and revulsion that accompanies their stories, of Bill Cosby allegedly drugging them and raping them and using his tremendous power and influence to silence them. No more.
Their words are awful, and they are resonant. Barbara Bowman:
I was invited down to Atlantic City to see his show and had a very confusing night where I was completely drugged and my luggage was missing. When I called the concierge to find out where my luggage was, Cosby went ballistic. He slammed the phone down and said, ‘What the hell are you doing, letting the whole hotel know I have a 19-year-old girl in my hotel suite?’ The next morning, he summoned me down to his room and yelled at me that I needed to have discretion. He threw me down on the bed and he put his forearm under my throat. He straddled me, and he took his belt buckle off. The clanking of the belt buckle, I’ll never forget.
I told my supervisor at the Playboy Club what he did to me, and you know what she said to me? She said: ‘You do know that that’s Hefner’s best friend, right?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ She says to me: ‘Nobody’s going to believe you. I suggest you shut your mouth.’
People often these days say, ‘Well, why didn’t you take it to the police?’ Andrea Constand went to the police in 2005—how’d it work out for her? Not at all. In 2005, Bill Cosby still had control of the media. In 2015, we have social media. We can’t be disappeared. It’s online and can never go away.
The crux of Malone’s essay piggybacks off that statement, as she details how rape culture has changed through the decades, all four of them, that Bill Cosby has allegedly been a serial rapist. Social media has enabled victims to be heard regardless of the press angle, she argues, and young women are stronger and more vocal about what’s happened to them than we’ve ever been; Emma Sulkowicz is one of her examples. Whether that’s entirely true—it’d be a mistake to leave out the estimated 68 percent of women who are still afraid to come forward and report their rapes—it’s at least a hopeful view in a story so gruesome and heartbreaking it needs it. Read the full piece, and see the portraits, here.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Images via Amanda Demme / New York Magazine