On Tuesday, the Washington Post published a story about Tanya Selvaratnam, a former partner of Eric Schneiderman who, last year, accused the New York attorney general of intimate partner violence in a story for the New Yorker. Her story, along with the accounts of three other women, came out exactly one year ago, one in a string of MeToo stories, and led to Schneiderman’s resignation.
The Post’s latest report details what happened after Selvaratnam went public. Anticipating backlash, she made it very difficult for anyone who would come out against her to find her, by moving out of her apartment, hiding in London, getting a burner phone, setting up an auto-reply on her email, and erasing her social media accounts.
Anticipating the worst, Selvaratnam was surprised by the outpouring of support she got from friends and strangers instead. But as more time passed, she also kept bumping into the pain she’d endured as she explored the lessons she’d learned in more public or communal settings. After discussing it with her agent, Selvaratnam decided to write a book about intimate partner violence, the kind of exhaustive guide she wished was more readily available. “None of us were talking about it with each other, because it’s so embarrassing,” Selvaratnam says. “It’s humiliating. It’s disgusting. That’s what I want people to get more educated about. It’s not the kind of thing that they prepare you for.”
The process of writing it left her in a depression:
In Portland, Selvaratnam went through her nearly 300 pages of notes. She was pushing herself forward, throwing herself into her work, and thinking, “I’m in a good place. I can do this. Let me see what’s there,” she recalls. But, she says, “The experience came back in a very palpable way. I felt like I had been hit by a cannonball.”
Selvaratnam is optimistic about the book’s potential, which combines her own experiences with research on the subject. But her post-New Yorker experience points to the fact that for many survivors of abuse, the cycle of pain doesn’t always end by speaking up about it publicly.
The Post notes that Selvaratnam kept her job after the New Yorker story came out, but many women are not so lucky when first reporting abusive behaviors or sexual harassment at work. Beyond any punitive ramifications, the process of speaking truth to power and recounting your trauma for a new audience can also subject survivors to scrutiny, interrogation, and threats to their safety. Months after Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony, she was still receiving death threats.
Having the world find out, in detail, about a former abusive employer or partner can leave survivors with complicated emotions. Helen Donahue, a writer who said she was sexually harassed at Vice before leaving the company in 2016, told the New York Times last year: “I’ve felt more isolated since speaking out, in part because the article strained several of my remaining relationships with people in media [...] When the article dropped, my anxiety skyrocketed. Strangers recognized me from the internet, and people I hadn’t spoken to in years texted me.”
Because many survivors are breaking ground by speaking out, there’s no roadmap for what happens after going public. Selvaratnam’s story shows that even those in fairly privileged positions, with support networks and consistent employment can struggle.