Padma Lakshmi Reveals She Was Date Raped At 16 and Why So Many Women Stay Silent


The recent sexual assault allegations against supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh have stirred a lot of discussion around why women stay silent about their assaults for so long. Kavanaugh’s first accuser Christine Blasey Ford claims she was 16 when Kavanaugh assaulted her and a lot of folks—white male Republicans especially—can’t seem to fathom why a woman would let this many years pass before finally outing her assaulter. The truth is, a lot of women who have been raped or assaulted stay silent and the reasons are often as complex as the situations themselves. In fact, author, actress, model, and television host Padma Lakshmi recently penned a personal essay in The New York Times on how she was date raped at 16 and why she never shared it with the world before now.

In the essay, Lakshmi writes about a 23-year-old college student she started dating when she was 16-year-old. She details how the young man initially seemed “charming” and respectful.

When we went out, he would park the car and come in and sit on our coach and talk to my mother. He never brought me home late on a school night. We were intimate to a point, but he knew that I was a virgin and that I was unsure of when I would be ready to have sex,” she writes. “On New Year’s Eve, just a few months after we first started dating, he raped me.”

Lakshmi writes how the traumatic incident has been replayed in her head, especially after the details of Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez’s accusations against Kavanaugh have come forward. She then goes on to explain how she understands why both of them remained silent for so many years.

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,” she writes. “For years, I did the same thing. On Friday, I tweeted about what happened to me so many years ago.”

Lakshmi details the rape incident in her essay—a traumatic experience that unfortunately far too many women can relate to. Her and her 23-year-old boyfriend had gone to a few parties that evening and she makes a point to mention that she was not drunk. After hours of being out, the two settled into his apartment where Lakshmi eventually feel asleep.

“The next thing I remember is waking up to a very sharp stabbing pain like a knife blade between my legs. He was on top of me. I asked, ‘What are you doing? He said, ‘It will only hurt for a while.’ ‘Please don’t do this,’ I screamed. The pain was excruciating, and he continued, my tears felt like fear,” Lakshmi writes. “Afterward, he said, ‘I thought it would hurt less if you were asleep.’ Then he drove me home.’

In other words, he thought taking Lakshmi virginity and raping her in her sleep would hurt less. Because let’s face it, that’s what he did. He raped her while she was asleep and while she was still awake. Nothing about that sex was consensual.

Like many sexual assault victims, Lakshmi didn’t tell anyone because the incident left her scared and filled with shame.

“I didn’t report it. 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,” she writes. “Soon I began to feel that it was my fault. We had no language in the 1980s for date rape. I imagined that adults would say: “What the hell were you doing in his apartment? Why were you dating someone so much older?”

Lakshmi had difficulties processing the rape. For years she didn’t even consider it rape. She also reveals that part of the reason why she took so many years to share her story is because she remembered an incident when she was younger where speaking out only worked against her.

“When I think about it now, I realize that by the time of the rape, I had already absorbed certain lessons. When I was 7 years old, my step father’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,” she wrote.

These experiences were so traumatic that it literally took Lakshmi decades to share them with a therapist and eventually with intimate partners. It took her 32 years to publicly share her story.

“Some say a man shouldn’t pay a price for an act he committed as a teenager. But the woman pays the price for the rest of her life, and so do the people who love her,” she writes.

That last statement was such an important one to make because it’s so true. The fact that we live in a society that believes we should forgive and forget what a man did in his teens—regardless of how traumatic or criminal it was—just speaks to the toxicity of the very misogynistic society we still live in. The fact that we believe these men should go free is evidence that we don’t care enough about their female victim’s lives. While those assaulter and rapist live their lives as if nothing happened, these women  endure years of trauma and pain in silence and often without any kind of support.

It’s sad and discouraging that even with the #MeToo movement and it being 2018, women still aren’t believed when they out their accusers. They are still doubted and their motives are still questioned while society continues to try to save and protect their male predators. We worry about these men’s futures, their lives, and how being accused will ultimately impact their careers and reputations. But we don’t think about how these incidents have impacted these women’s lives, their bodies and their mental health. We shame women when they share their stories or report their accusers and then we shame them years later when they finally decided to break their silence and speak their truth.

Gubernatorial candidate, Stacey Abrams recently broke down why so many women don’t report their rapes or assaults and why it’s so important for us to believe them.

“Even today, structural and cultural barriers have created stigma that prevents survivors of sexual assault from coming forward,” she told MarieClaire.com. “It is incumbent upon our leaders to treat sexual assault prevention and building a culture of consent as a public health issue, and to ensure that survivors who wish to come forward can do so safely, and be believed.”

We can’t expect our society to change if we are still going to excuse men—powerful men in particular—of sexual assault or rape. What we’re essentially doing is conditioning them to believe that this is acceptable behavior that they will get away with. This is why so many women today—even it if is years and decades later—are finally speaking out against these men to put a stop to this. Assaulters like Brett Kavanaugh don’t deserve respect—their survivors do. This is part of what sparked the #BelieveSurvivors national movement.

Lakshmi said it best: “I am speaking now because I want us all to fight so that our daughters never know this fear and shame and our sons know that girl’s bodies do not exist for their pleasure and that abuse has grave consequences. Those messages should be very clear as we consider whom we appoint to make decisions on the highest court of our land.”

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