Lena Dunham: “Why I Chose To Speak Out” About College Rape

Speaking out was never about exposing the man who assaulted me. Rather, it was about exposing my shame, letting it dry out in the sun. I did not wish to be contacted by him or to open a criminal investigation. I am in a loving and peaceful place in my life and I am not willing to sacrifice any more of it for this person I do not know, aside from one night I will never forget. That is my choice. …

When I finally chose to share my story, I did not do so in a vacuum. I was inspired by all the brave women who are now coming forward with their own experiences, despite the many risks associated with speaking out. Survivors are so often re-victimized by a system that demands they prove their purity and innocence. They are asked to provide an unassailable narrative when the event itself is hazy, fragmented, and unspeakable. They are isolated and betrayed by people close to them who doubt their reality or are frustrated by their inability to move on. Their most intimate experiences are made public property. …

I was ready to admit to the ways being sexually assaulted has shaped my sense of self as a woman entering adulthood, compromised my emotional security, and haunted me even during the most joyful periods of my life. I hoped I might inspire others to share, and that forming these connections would assist us all in healing.

Lena Dunham has penned a beautiful essay for Buzzfeed about her decision to write about being raped in college in her book Not That Kind Of Girl. The essay is written somewhat in response to conservative critics who have questioned the validity of her story and have gone out of their way to “disprove” it, including trying to track down the man who raped her. Yesterday, I told you about how one former classmate, who happens to be named “Barry,” the pseudonym used in the book, has been mistaken for Dunham’s attacker. Going forward, new printings of Not That Kind Of Girl will be more clear that “Barry” is a pseudonym; Dunham apologizes for the confusion at the beginning of the essay, calling the resemblance between Real Life Barry and Book Rapist Barry “an unfortunate and surreal coincidence.” 

I especially appreciate a point Dunham makes in the essay about her intentions for speaking out about her rape so many years later. Far too often, the assumption is that when victims speak out about trauma they are seeking some kind of recourse, but often, the purpose has nothing to do with the attacker or seeing them punished. As Dunham says, it’s about healing. This is why it’s so important to simply listen when a survivor has the courage to tell their story. Hear them. Don’t try to poke holes in their story. Don’t try to question their recollection. Don’t play Devil’s advocate or try to get “the other side of the story.” Listen and if you’re going to say anything, let it be this: “I believe you. It’s not your fault.” [Buzzfeed]