Padma Lakshmi reveals she was raped at 16 in a heart-wrenching essay
The model and TV host has come forward with her story 32 years later
Women often suppress the memory of sexual assault, don’t report it to the police or even talk about it with their close friends and family for various reasons — the very real possibility of being told she’s lying, she’s responsible for it, or that she will ruin the man’s life. Padma Lakshmi too was in that situation. In a deeply personal essay for The New York Times, she has now written about being raped when she was 16, and why she didn’t go to the cops.
Padma’s decision to go public with the incident after 32 years was prompted by US President’s Donald Trump’s choice of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Brett has been accused of sexual assault by two women and Trump has questioned why one of the women didn’t come forward sooner, implying that she was making it up.
In her opinion piece, Padma writes that at 16, she started dating a 23-year-old college student she met at a mall in Los Angeles. They were intimate to a point but he knew she was a virgin and that she was unsure of being ready to have sex. On New Year’s Eve, a few months into dating, she says he begin to rape her when she was asleep.
“The two of us had gone to a couple of parties. Afterward, we went to his apartment. While we were talking, I was so tired that I lay on the bed and fell 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 as he continued, my tears felt like fear. Afterward, he said, “I thought it would hurt less if you were asleep.” Then he drove me home. 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 soon began to feel it was her fault and expected adults to question her as to what she doing in his apartment, or why she was dating someone older. “When I think about it now, I realise that by the time of this rape, I had already absorbed certain lessons. 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,” she adds.
For those who still think men should not pay the price for an act committed years ago, Padma has this to say: “But the woman pays the price for the rest of her life, and so do the people who love her.” And for those questioning what she was wearing or whether she was drunk, Padma emphasises that it’s immaterial, but she was not drunk and was wearing a maxi dress that revealed only her shoulders.
In her essay, Padma also talks about teaching her 8-year-old daughter to yell if someone touches her inappropriately, and inform someone about it. “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 girls’ bodies do not exist for their pleasure and that abuse has grave consequences,” she says.
Amen to that.