What started as a movement in the United States, with women coming forward and speaking up about sexual harassment they faced in the hands of powerful men, is now a global phenomenon. The MeToo movement has spread, our country included, and has empowered women to speak up and question the patriarchal status quo.
While women fight to be heard still, the fight to be believed is a whole other battle. Victim shaming and blaming is a common enough occurrence that it needs to explanation — and the reason so many women stay mum about any abuse they face. Supermodel and author Padma Lakshmi recently came forward with her own story of sexual abuse when she was 16 years old, and why she did not speak up about it.
In a personal piece for The New York Times, Padma wrote about how her then boyfriend, who was seven years older than her, forcibly had sex with her while 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."
She then goes on to explain how she felt ashamed and guilty about what happened, and why she felt like she couldn't talk about it then. "When I think about it now, I realize 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."
Padma's story is not unheard of. Women are conditioned to stay silent and bear the brunt of the crime, thanks to our patriarchal conditioning and sexist society. Because when we do speak up, we're silenced with disbelief and shaming. And when women finally do speak up, years later, they are questioned, "Why did you not speak up then?"
This vicious circle of victim blaming needs to end, in order to let more victims feel safe about reporting their trauma. And Padma's story is a strong testament to that.