In an op-ed published by The New York Times on Tuesday, Padma Lakshmi revealed that she was molested as a child at the age of 7 and raped at the age of 16 by an older man she’d been dating at the time.
Lakshmi, 48, met the man who would eventually sexually assault her when she was 16 years old and working part-time at a mall in suburban Los Angeles, she wrote. He was a 23-year-old college student and worked at a “high-end men’s store,” she said; he was “charming and handsome,” and when the two began dating, he seemed respectful.
“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.
Then, a few months into their relationship, she fell asleep at his apartment only to wake up to a “very sharp stabbing pain like a knife blade between my legs,” she wrote.
“He was on top of me. I asked, ‘What are you doing?’ He said, ‘It will only hurt for a while,’” she wrote. “’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.”
Following the assault, she was in shock, she said. She kept what had been done to her a secret, even from her mother and her friends. But preceding that horrific event, Lakshmi had been molested by a family member at the age of 7, she also revealed.
“When I was 7 years old, my stepfather’s relative touched me between my legs and put my hand on his erect penis,” she wrote. “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.”
Lakshmi was moved to tell her story, decades later, amid accusations that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez as a young man, and President Donald Trump’s claim that, if Dr. Ford’s allegations were “as bad as she says,” she or her parents would have reported the incident to police. In response, sexual assault survivors began sharing their own stories on social media under the “WhyIDidntReport” hashtag, discussing the vast array of reasons survivors have for keeping their trauma a secret.
For Lakshmi, it took her “decades” to be able to speak openly about what she had gone through with “intimate partners and a therapist.”
“I understand why both would keep this information to themselves for so many years, without involving the police,” Lakshmi wrote. “For years, I did the same thing.”
“I have nothing to gain by talking about this,” she also wrote. “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.”
[Photo: Padma Lakshmi attends the 70th Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 17, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. By Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic via Getty Images]