Ahead of the professor appearing with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday — during which her claims of sexual assault against him will be discussed — the Top Chef judge, author, and activist penned an op-ed for the New York Times about being raped when she was 16 and not telling anyone. “I understand why a woman would wait years to disclose a sexual assault,” she wrote.
Lakshmi said she was working at a mall store in a Los Angeles suburb at that age when she met a 23-year-old man in a similar retail job. She was a virgin, which he was aware of, but four months into the relationship, he raped her on New Year’s Eve. After going to a few parties, they ended up back at his place, where she nodded off. (She was tired, “not drunk,” not that that part even matters.) She was awoken by her boyfriend penetrating her.
“The next thing I remember is waking up to a very sharp stabbing pain like a knife blade between my legs,” she wrote. “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. Afterward, he said, ‘I thought it would hurt less if you were asleep.’ Then he drove me home.”
I wrote an Op-Ed for @nytimes about something terrible that happened to me in my youth, something that happens to young women every day. We all have an opportunity to change the narrative and believe survivors. https://t.co/pqFt50t4R1
— Padma Lakshmi (@PadmaLakshmi) September 25, 2018
Like many — see #WhyIDidntReport — she didn’t tell anyone. Not her mom, not her friends, “and certainly not” the police. She returned home and went to bed, “hoping to forget that night.” Lakshmi wrote that there was no language for date rape in the 1980s, when it happened. She imagined people would criticize her for dating an older man and being in his apartment.
Besides, Lakshmi said she already knew at 16 what happened when you did report abuse. When she was 7, one of her stepfather’s relatives “touched me between my legs and put my hand on his erect penis.” When she told her mother and stepfather, she was sent to India for a year to live with grandparents. “The lesson was: If you speak up, you will be cast out.”
So she didn’t. She kept it locked up inside. “I don’t think I classified it as rape — or even sex — in my head,” she wrote. And over the next few years, when she had other boyfriends, she maintained that she was virgin. “I lied to them — I said I was still a virgin. Emotionally, I still was,” she wrote. It took her “decades” to talk about this “with intimate partners and a therapist.” (She was married to author Salman Rushdie.)
Lakshmi, who says she “let my 16-year-old self down” by not reporting, also talked about her 8-year-old daughter with Adam Dell, Krishna. “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.'”
Which brings her to Kavanaugh. “Some say a man shouldn’t pay a price for an act he committed as a teenager,” she writes. “But the woman pays the price for the rest of her life, and so do the people who love her.”
Lakshmi said she was inspired to tell her story after President Trump’s tweet on Friday, which led to many sharing their personal stories of #WhyIDidntReport. Including her. Since then, a second woman, Deborah Ramirez, who went to Yale with Kavanaugh, said he exposed himself to her when they were in college. “I understand why both women would keep this information to themselves for so many years, without involving the police,” she wrote.
She added: “Now, 32 years after my rape, I am stating publicly what happened. I have nothing to gain by talking about this. But we all have a lot to lose if we put a time limit on telling the truth about sexual assault and if we hold on to the codes of silence that for generations have allowed men to hurt women with impunity.”
Lakshmi ended by sharing stats — that one in four girls and one in six boys today will be sexually abused before the age of 18. She said she hopes our daughters don’t have to endure that shame — and that our sons know that abusing a woman’s body has “grave consequences.” She wrote: “Those messages should be very clear as we consider whom we appoint to make decisions on the highest court of our land.”
Read more from Yahoo Entertainment:
- Bill Cosby sentenced to 3 to 10 years in state prison for sexual assault, deemed a ‘sexually violent predator’
- ‘What is wrong with Hollywood?’: Twitter reacts to the news Mel Gibson is directing ‘The Wild Bunch’
- Andrea Constand’s victim impact statement details how she couldn’t ‘talk, eat, sleep, or socialize’ after Bill Cosby sexual assault