Padma Lakshmi Pens Powerful Essay About Being Raped at 16 and Its Devastating Aftermath
By Antoinette Bueno
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Padma Lakshmi is opening up about the night she says she was sexually assaulted as a teenager and its far-reaching consequences in her life.
The 48-year-old Top Chef host and model writes in a New York Times Op-Ed published on Tuesday that she was raped at 16 by a 23-year-old man she had been dating. She says the two met while she was working at the Puente Hills Mall in Los Angeles, where they both worked but at different stores.
"He would come in wearing a gray silk suit and flirt with me," she recalls. "He was in college, and I thought he was charming and handsome. When we went out, he would park the car and come in and sit on our couch 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 says that after a few months of dating, he raped her on New Year’s Eve. Lakshmi says that after the two attended a couple of parties, she went to his apartment and fell asleep on his bed.
"The next thing I remember is waking up to a very sharp stabbing pain like a knife blade between my legs," she writes. "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 as he continued, my tears felt like fear," she continues. "Afterward, he said, 'I thought it would hurt less if you were asleep.' Then he drove me home."
Lashmi says she never reported the assault to the police and didn't tell her mother or her friends. She also admits to feeling confused about the incident.
"I don’t think I classified it as rape -- or even sex -- in my head," she notes. "I’d always thought that when I lost my virginity, it would be a big deal -- or at least a conscious decision. The loss of control was disorienting. In my mind, when I one day had intercourse, it would be to express love, to share pleasure or to have a baby. This was clearly none of those things. Later, when I had other boyfriends my senior year of high school and in my first year of college, I lied to them -- I said I was still a virgin. Emotionally, I still was."
"When I think about it now, I realize that by the time of this rape, I had already absorbed certain lessons," she continues. "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."
Lakshmi is going public about her sexual assault in response to President Donald Trump's controversial tweet last week concerning Christine Blasey Ford's allegation that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh attempted to rape her while they were in high school. Kavanaugh has denied the accusation.
"I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents," Trump tweeted on Friday. "I ask that she bring those filings forward so that we can learn date, time, and place!"
Lakshmi says Trump's comment made her think about her own sexual assault.
"These experiences have affected me and my ability to trust," she writes. "It took me decades to talk about this with intimate partners and a therapist. 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 also says she regrets not reporting her rapist but points out the scrutiny she believes she would have been subjected to.
"We had no language in the 1980s for date rape," she explains. "I imagined that adults would say: 'What the hell were you doing in his apartment? Why were you dating someone so much older?' ... 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. 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."
"I think if I had at the time named what happened to me as rape -- and told others -- I might have suffered less," she later muses. "Looking back, I now think I let my rapist off the hook and I let my 16-year-old self down."