Last Friday, when many began tweeting with the hashtag #WhyIDidntReport to explain (again) why women and men often do not come forward when they are sexually assaulted, Padma Lakshmi added her voice to the chorus and shared that she had been assaulted three times when she was young. On Tuesday, she published an Op-Ed in the New York Times detailing one of those traumatic events for the first time.
"He was in college, and I thought he was charming and handsome. He was 23," the Top Chef host said of her assailant, whom she was dating when she was 16 and worked at the same mall he did in the suburbs of Los Angeles. The man had been respectful of her virginity, always got her home early on school nights, and was polite to her mother.
"On New Year’s Eve, just a few months after we first started dating, he raped me," Lakshmi wrote.
She had been asleep in his apartment and awoke to find the man penetrating her. He continued despite her protests and later gave her the awful excuse, "I thought it would hurt less if you were asleep."
She never told anyone what happened and blamed herself for it, particularly because date rape was not discussed in the '80s. But more to the point, Lakshmi said she played out her assumptions of what adults would say if she spoke up: "What the hell were you doing in his apartment? Why were you dating someone so much older?"
She had also internalized the lesson that telling her parents about something like this would result in being cast out, because when she was 7 and she told them that her stepfather's relative touched her inappropriately, they sent her to India for a year.
So here she is, 32 years later, finally telling the world about what happened, because of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez's allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Lakshmi is coming forward because she doesn’t want young women to know the fear and shame these experiences made her feel for decades, she said.
"I have nothing to gain by talking about this," Lakshmi explained. "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."
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).