Padma Lakshmi’s #WhyIDidntReport Story Reminds Why Assault Victims Often Stay Silent

“The woman pays the price for the rest of her life.”

After 32 years of keeping it a secret, Padma Lakshmi has come forward with details about how she was raped at the age of 16. At the core of her story, the Top Chef judge hammers home exactly why we need to believe victims, a timely issue considering how accusers of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh have been treated in public opinion.

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In a very personal essay for The New York Times, Lakshmi revealed how she was date raped by her 23-year-old boyfriend at the age of 16. This incident was brought to the surface with Christine Blasey Ford's accusation that she is the victim of an attempted rape by Kavanaugh when they were in high school and Deborah Ramirez's claim that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her when they were in college. Today, a third woman, Julie Swetnick, came forward with her own claims similar to those of Ford except these allege that she was gang-raped at a party where he was attending.

Not only have Kavanaugh's alleged female victims been treated to varying degrees of respect — with some defending Kavanaugh and others showing that they believe women — but President Donald Trump has weighed in as well. This, for Lakshmi, was what pushed her to bring to light what she went through all those years ago.

"You may want to know if I had been drinking on the night of my rape. It doesn't matter, but I was not drunk," Lakshmi wrote, taking on many of the points women are questioned about when they come forward about being sexually taken advantage of. "Maybe you will want to know what I was wearing or if I had been ambiguous about my desires. It still doesn't matter, but I was wearing a long-sleeved, black Betsey Johnson maxi dress that revealed only my shoulders."

As for why Lakshmi didn't report the rape at the time, it was because a distant family member had taken advantage of her when she was just 7 years old. After telling her family about it, she was sent to live with her grandparents for a year in India. This, she notes, established the idea that "if you speak up, you will be cast out."

This notion is behind the recent #WhyIDidntReport hashtag, which saw fellow celebrity Alyssa Milano join in and which is the result of President Trump questioning Ford — and, by default, other accusors — for speaking out against Kavanaugh so late. Milano, like Lakshmi, is also a big supporter of the #MeToo and Time's Up movements, and shares a similar story not only with Lakshmi but with millions of other people around the world. There is a reason why people remain silent about this and — if Lakshmi and Milano have anything to say about it — that era is over. 

"These experiences have affected me and my ability to trust. It took me decades to talk about this with intimate partners and a therapist," she wrote. "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."

Lakshmi said it's important that she be open and honest about what happened to her, especially since she has an 8-year-old daughter in her life. Since 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be abused sexually by the age of 18, Lakshmi said it's important to show — specifically in the case of Kavanaugh — that we should hold abusers accountable, even if (and especially if) they are up for the chance to make decisions on the highest court of the land.

Cover image: Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock.com

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