WOMEN
09/25/2018 02:21 pm ET Updated Sep 25, 2018

Padma Lakshmi Says She Was Raped At 16 And Didn't Report It

There are many reasons sexual assault survivors don't come forward.

Padma Lakshmi said in an essay published Tuesday in The New York Times that she was raped when she was 16 years old and didn’t tell anyone about it until many years later.

The “Top Chef” host felt prompted to come forward now, she said, after President Donald Trump and other politicians publicly wondered why two women accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of decades-old sexual assault didn’t report him sooner.

“I understand why both women would keep this information to themselves for so many years, without involving the police,” Lakshmi wrote. “For years, I did the same thing.”

Lakshmi said she began dating an older man when she was 16 years old.

“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 wrote.

On New Year’s Eve, several months after they started dating, they went to some parties and then back to his apartment where Lakshmi said she promptly fell asleep. She awoke to a “very sharp stabbing pain” between her legs, she said. “Afterward, he said, ‘I thought it would hurt less if you were asleep.’ Then he drove me home.”

Lakshmi said she didn’t report the assault to anyone and that it took her “decades to talk about this with intimate partners and a therapist.”

There were a number of reasons for this. Lakshmi blamed herself, and she didn’t classify the incident as “rape” in her head initially.

She also described an earlier experience of molestation when she was 7 years old, which resulted in her parents sending her to live in India for a year when she told them about it.

“The lesson was: If you speak up, you will be cast out,” Lakshmi wrote. 

Trump on Friday attempted to cast doubt on Christine Blasey’s story that Kavanaugh forced himself on her when they were high school students. “Why didn’t someone call the FBI 36 years ago?” he questioned in a tweet. 

According to the federal government’s own estimates, two-thirds of people who are raped or sexually assaulted don’t report it.

Sexual assault survivors shared their own experiences in response to Trump’s question, using the hashtag #WhyIDidn’tReport.

On Tuesday, Trump similarly questioned the credibility of Deborah Ramirez, who says Kavanaugh exposed his penis to her when they were in college. The president claimed Ramirez “has nothing” because “she admits she was drunk” at the time of the alleged assault.

Questioning whether assault victims were drunk, what they were wearing or why they didn’t come forward sooner, Lakshmi said, reinforces the very views that keep survivors silent. 

“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,” she wrote.  

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated when Ramirez alleges the assault took place. She says it was in college, not high school.

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