Lena Dunham Opens Up About Being A Rape Survivor

10/02/2014 11:32 am ET | Updated Oct 02, 2014
  • Avery Stone Digital Innovation Fellow, The Huffington Post
Fred Lee via Getty Images

"Girls" creator Lena Dunham writes in her new memoir that she was raped as a 19-year-old college student. Over the course of two chapters, she explains that it took her years to come to terms with what happened and to be able to talk about the complexities of her experience in a way that felt truthful to her.

In the chapter "Girls & Jerks," Dunham recalls an "ill-fated evening of lovemaking" with an infamous on-campus Republican. Describing the lead-up to the incident, she writes: "All I knew when I stumbled home from a party behind him was that he was sullen, thuggish, and a poor loser at poker. How that led to intercourse was a study in the way revulsion can quickly become desire when mixed with the right muscle relaxants."

Dunham goes on to set the scene that unfolds between them in her apartment, during which she thought the man was wearing a condom but later realized he wasn't. The condom, Dunham noticed, was actually hanging from a nearby potted plant.

"I think…? The condom’s…? In the tree?” I muttered feverishly.

“Oh,” he said, like he was as shocked as I was. He reached for it as if he was going to put it back on, but I was already up, stumbling towards my couch, which was the closest thing to a garment I could find. I told him he should probably go, chucking his hoodie and boots out the door with him. The next morning, I sat in a shallow bath for half an hour like someone in one of those coming-of-age movies.

At the beginning of the next chapter, titled "Barry," she backtracks, writing:

I'm an unreliable narrator ... mostly because in another essay in this book I describe a sexual encounter with a mustachioed campus Republican as the upsetting but educational choice of a girl who was new to sex when, in fact, it didn't feel like a choice at all.

She then retells some events from the condom-in-a-tree night in graphic detail.

"Barry leads me to the parking lot," she writes. "I tell him to look away. I pull down my tights to pee, and he jams a few of his fingers inside me, like he’s trying to plug me up. I’m not sure whether I can’t stop it or I don’t want to."

The two then go back to her apartment, and Dunham -- in an attempt to convince herself that she'd given consent -- talks dirty to him as he forces himself on her.

The following day, when Dunham tells her roommate, Audrey, about the encounter, Audrey is horrified by her admission and tells Dunham, "You were raped."

"I burst out laughing," Dunham writes of her initial reaction.

Years later, while sitting in the writer's room of HBO's "Girls," she pitches a "version of the Barry story" to her co-writers. She doesn't call the incident rape, but her co-writers do.

Murray shakes his head. “I just don’t see rape being funny in any situation.”

“Yeah,” Bruce agrees. “It’s a tough one.”

“But that’s the thing,” I say. “No one knows if it’s a rape. It’s, like, a confusing situation that…” I trailed off.

“But I’m sorry that happened to you,” Jenni says. “I hate that.”

Dunham also writes that she struggled with feeling like she was to blame.

I feel like there are fifty ways it's my fault. I fantasized. I took the big pill and the small pill, stuffed myself with substances to make being out in the world with people my own age a little bit easier. I was hungry to be seen. But I also know that at no moment did I consent to being handled that way. I never gave him permission to be rough, to stick himself inside me without a barrier between us. I never gave him permission. In my deepest self I know this, and the knowledge of it has kept me from sinking.

Need help? In the U.S., visit the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline operated by RAINN. For more resources, visit the National Sexual Violence Resource Center's website.

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