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Why Lena Dunham Spoke Out About Her Rape So Many Years After It Happened

Why Lena Dunham Spoke Out About Her Rape So Many Years After It Happened

By Danica Lo

In her first book, Not That Kind of Girl, writer and actress Lena Dunham reveals that she was raped while she was a student at Oberlin College. Following the book's publication, Dunham has been attacked by certain media outlets seeking to discredit her account of sexual assault that occurred nearly a decade ago.

Last night, Dunham published an essay on Buzzfeed explaining why she chose to publish her rape story now, 10 years later. She also responds, broadly, to media who've attacked her for speaking out.

She wasn't looking for criminal or social justice: 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.

Why she didn't report the assault at the time: I had been drunk and high, which only compounded my confusion and shame. And I was afraid. I was afraid that no one would believe me. I was afraid other potential partners would consider me damaged goods. I was afraid I was overreacting. I was afraid it was my fault. I was afraid he would be angry.

On understanding the risks of speaking out now: 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.

On the backlash: I have had my character and credibility questioned at every turn. I have been attacked online with violent and misogynistic language. Reporters have attempted to uncover the identity of my attacker despite my sincerest attempts to protect this information. My work has been torn apart in an attempt to prove I am a liar, or worse, a deviant myself. My friends and family have been contacted. Articles have heralded “Lena Dunham’s shocking confession.” I have been made to feel, on multiple occasions, as though I am to blame for what happened.

On victim-blaming: These ignorant lines of inquiry serve to further flawed narratives about rape, but these people are reacting to the same set of social signals that we all are—signals telling us that preventing assault is a woman’s job, that rape is only rape when a stranger drags you into a dark alley with a knife at your throat, that our stories are never true, and that lying about rape is a way for women to enact revenge on innocent men. These misconceptions about rape are rampant, destructive, and precisely the thing that prevents survivors from seeking the support that they need and deserve.

On the first steps we can take to help survivors: Survivors have the right to tell their stories, to take back control after the ultimate loss of control. There is no right way to survive rape, and there is no right way to be a victim. What survivors need more than anything is to be supported, whether they choose to pursue a criminal investigation or to rebuild their world on their own terms. You can help by never defining a survivor by what has been taken from her. You can help by saying I believe you.

Tell us what you think about survivors of sexual assault speaking out and telling their stories. What do you think the motivations are behind people who attack them after they step forward?

Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic

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