A lot of bad faith and genuinely cruel question have been asked in the media following sexual assault accusations made by two women—Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez—against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Among the worst is “Why didn’t she report her assault sooner?” Its this disingenuous concern that the author, producer, and TV host Padma Lakshmi addresses in a thoughtful essay published by the New York Times on Tuesday.
In the essay, which is titled “I Was raped at 16 and I Kept Silent,” Lakshmi, who is 48, writes that she was raped as teenager and, for a variety of reasons, didn’t feel comfortable coming forward with her story.
“I didn’t report it,” writes Lakshmi. “Not to my mother, not to my friends and certainly not to the police. At first I was in shock. That evening, I let my mother know when I was home, then went to sleep, hoping to forget that night.”
Lakshmi writes that her assailant, who she says was 23 at the time, was also a man she was romantically interested in (“He was in college, and I thought he was charming and handsome”). The two went on a few dates and though they were “intimate to a point…he knew that I was a virgin and that I was unsure of when I would be ready to have sex.” Lakshmi says that a few months after they started dating, on New Year’s Eve, the man she was seeing raped her.
In the essay, Lakshmi explicitly relates her experience with what she’s been seeing on the news. “I have been turning that incident over in my head throughout the past week, as two women have come forward to detail accusations against the Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh…. On Friday, President Trump tweeted that if what Dr. Blasey said was true, she would have filed a police report years ago. But I understand why both women would keep this information to themselves for so many years, without involving the police. For years, I did the same thing.”
Lakshmi explains that from a young age she internalized the lesson that speaking out against sexual abuse is a punishable offense:
“When I think about it now, I realize that by the time of this rape, I had already absorbed certain lessons. When I was 7 years old, my stepfather’s relative touched me between my legs and put my hand on his erect penis. Shortly after I told my mother and stepfather, they sent me to India for a year to live with my grandparents. The lesson was: If you speak up, you will be cast out.”
Finally, Lakshmi reflects upon how she is bringing up her own eight-year-old daughter to be cognizant of her bodily autonomy and right to express herself if ever lines are crossed:
“I have a daughter now. She’s 8. For years I’ve been telling her the simplest and most obvious words that it took me much of my life to understand: ‘If anybody touches you in your privates or makes you feel uncomfortable, you yell loud. You get out of there and tell somebody. Nobody is allowed to put their hands on you. Your body is yours.’”
You can read the essay in full here.