Last week, the world watched as Dr. Christine Blasey Ford stood in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee to publicly allege that Brett Kavanaugh, the conservative D.C. judge whom President Donald Trump had nominated to the Supreme Court, had drunkenly groped her at a party, attempted to forcibly remove her clothes, and covered her mouth when she attempted to scream. Dr. Ford’s affecting, emotional account of the alleged assault immediately ignited a rippling #MeToo effect across the country, as women from Busy Phillips to Ellen Degeneres began sharing their own traumatic sexual assault experiences—feeling emboldened to do so after hearing Dr. Ford’s powerful testimony.
Actor and activist Amandla Stenberg chose to open up about her sexual assault in an op-ed for Teen Vogue published Saturday. In the powerfully penned piece, the Hate U Give star wrote about her own experiences with sexual assault and explains she felt compelled to go public with her own story after watching the Kavanaugh hearings and listening to Dr. Ford’s testimony.
“As I live-streamed Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony in a hotel room and a humid drizzle painted the windows an opaque gray, I found myself relying heavily on the tool of my breath… My breath was the tool I relied on when I ended up in a foreign country on a three-hour train ride to find an emergency contraceptive,” she wrote. “The night before, what started as a consensual experience had turned forceful. Painful things had been done to my body that made me feel broken and disposable. I was unable to consent to them, and was silenced verbally and physically when I protested.”
The actress goes on to describe the emotional weight she carried after this traumatic experience, feeling at times guilty, as though what happened to her had somehow been her fault. “I was sitting in that soup of guilt and shame that often follows an unwarranted sexual experience,” she said. “My body hurt and my mind was on a one-track loop, dissecting all the things that I was culpable for, that must have led me to my predicament.”
Stenberg explains that her assaulter was someone who was “respected” by her peers, stating: “It seemed to me that often the trade-off of being invited into spaces by these sorts of cis straight men and getting their approval was the acceptance that what I had to contribute was the value of my body as a woman. Implicit within that was the notion that, because my body served such a transactional purpose, it was no longer just my property. That was a form of social currency I was familiar with and, honestly, at times accepted.”
An often-debated topic throughout the Kavanaugh hearings revolved around the question of whether or not Dr. Ford should have come forward with the sexual assault allegation sooner. But as Stenberg points out in her essay, doing so immediately throws assault survivors into “a battle where you’ve been appointed defender of your own legitimacy.” She goes on: “You are given the responsibility of, after having just been subjected to devastating trauma, navigating impossible protocols, lest you be charged as the culprit in your own attack. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Damned to subject yourself to physical and public scrutiny, more vulnerability and social repercussions, or damned to allow the residual feelings to fester inside. Either way, you sacrifice comfort and safety within your own body, and sometimes it’s easier to just keep that pain to yourself and hope it goes away. And that is understandable and OK. We should not be condemned for being unsure of how to move through pain.”
Ultimately, it was watching Dr. Ford’s testimony that pushed the actress to “move through discomfort that [she’d] buried” and speak out: “Although these tipping points are chaotic, disorienting, infuriating, and often heartbreaking, I like to believe that real change begins with the eruption of truth.”
Read her full essay here.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you can seek help by calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673). For more resources on sexual assault, visit RAINN and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.