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Prior to his confirmation, Justice Kavanaugh was accused of sexual assault by three women, allegations he strongly denied. Nearly two weeks after watching one of his accusers, Christine Blasey Ford, testify against Kavanaugh in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Stenberg opened up about her own experience with sexual assault in an op-ed written for Teen Vogue, published on Tuesday.
“I ended up in a foreign country on a three-hour train ride to find an emergency contraceptive,” the Hate U Give star, 19, wrote. “The night before, what started as a consensual experience had turned forceful. … Embarrassment coursed through my blood. … I downplayed what had happened to my friends. Being candid about how I felt seemed disruptive or weak, and I didn’t want to burden them with the responsibility of helping me process something that I felt was my fault.”
Stenberg went on to describe the scrutiny sexual assault victims experience from society, explaining why survivors are sometimes hesitant to speak out. Because of this, Stenberg acknowledged the parallels between herself and Ford, who didn’t come forward with her allegations against Kavanaugh until decades later. The alleged incident, according to Ford, took place in 1982 when she would have been 15.
“The moment you speak out about assault, you’ve entered a battle where you’ve been appointed defender of your own legitimacy,” Stenberg continued. “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.”
Stenberg also offered a message of empowerment for fellow survivors of sexual assault. “It is not your responsibility to figure this out by yourself, it is not your responsibility to sacrifice your comfort to gratify others, assault can look like many different things,” she added. “You are not dirty. You are not stupid. You are not weak for needing help. You are not defined by this.”
Stenberg follows other actresses who have been inspired to share their stories of sexual assault following Ford’s testimony. Teri Hatcher, Ellen DeGeneres, Busy Philipps and Connie Chung have all spoken out about their experiences in the last two weeks.
Read Stenberg’s entire essay here.
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Taraji P. Henson