Padma Lakshmi Opens Up About Being Raped At 16 -- And Why She Stayed Silent

by Cassandra Stone
Image via Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images

Padma Lakshmi shares her heartbreaking history of sexual assault, and why she’s speaking out now

In an essay published yesterday by The New York Times, Padma Lakshmi says she was raped when she was 16 years old, and stayed silent about her rape for many years. The Top Chef host says she decided to speak about it now in light of the two women accusing Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault and the backlash they’ve faced for coming forward.

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

She says when she was 16, she was dating an older man. “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 shares that several months after they began dating, she and the man attended a few New Year’s Eve parties and then went back to his apartment. Lakshmi says she fell asleep but woke up to a “very sharp stabbing pain” between her legs.

“He was on top of me. I asked, ‘What are you doing?’ He said, ‘It will only hurt for a while.'” She says she begged him not to do it. “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.”

She didn’t tell anyone about her rape, nor did she consider reporting it. She, like so many survivors of sexual assault, felt it was her fault. She felt that if she told an adult about it, they’d place the burden of blame on her shoulders for dating an older man and going to his apartment.

“I’d always thought that when I lost my virginity, it would be a big deal — or at least a conscious decision,” she writes. “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.”

After Donald Trump callously engaged in victim-blaming Dr. Christine Blasey Ford last week, #WhyIDidntReport began trending on Twitter. Survivors everywhere came forward to share their reasons why they didn’t report their sexual assault — fear of retaliation and fear of being disbelieved being two of the major reasons for many victims. Lakshmi shared her own reasons, and revealed she was sexually assaulted when she was just seven years old as well.

In the op-ed, she says when she told her parents about it, they sent her away to India for a year. At seven. “The lesson was: If you speak up, you will be cast out,” Lakshmi writes.

Since the allegations against Kavanaugh became public knowledge, many people have tried to blow off his actions as those of any “typical male teen” as though he shouldn’t be held accountable for his actions, simply because of his age. Lakshmi disputes this sexist, toxic notion brilliantly, and heartbreakingly.

“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.”

Pontificating on whether victims were intoxicated, what victims were wearing at the time of their assault, and blaming them for not coming forward are just a few of the many reasons why so many victims of sexual assault stay silent, she says. The recent news cycle is what prompted Lakshmi to use her voice and platform to shed light on how we talk about sexual assault.

“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. “Those messages should be very clear as we consider whom we appoint to make decisions on the highest court of our land.”