Padma Lakshmi explains what prompted her to write about being a rape survivor

“I know more women who it’s happened to than it hasn’t happened to, in some form or another."

“Top Chef’’ host Padma Lakshmi.
“Top Chef’’ host Padma Lakshmi. –Michael Cohen / Getty Images for The New York Times

Padma Lakshmi — MIT visiting scholar, ACLU ambassador for women’s rights and immigration, and “Top Chef’’ host — spoke on the “Today’’ show Monday morning about her decision to write a New York Times opinion article, in which she disclosed that she was raped at age 16. It was the first public interview she’s given since the op-ed was published in September.

Lakshmi told anchors Hoda Kotb and Savannah Guthrie that she wasn’t planning to write the piece, but a tweet from President Trump changed her mind. In the wake of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation that Supreme Court nominee (now confirmed justice) Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers, Trump tweeted: “if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents.’’

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The tweet spurred an onslaught of responses and stories — among them Lakshmi’s.

“A lot of us don’t report it,’’ Lakshmi said during the interview. “There’s no upside to reporting it. There was no upside for Dr. Ford, clearly, but she’s a hero to many of us. The reason that I spoke out about it was because I tweeted. There was sort of a hashtag going around, #WhyIDidntReport, and then after I tweeted, it didn’t feel right to me. I thought: What happened to me is really important and really painful and it deserves more than a hashtag.’’

While she’s glad to have told her story, it’s been exhausting. After publishing the piece, she “went to bed for three days,’’ finally getting up so that she could go to MIT to be named a visiting scholar.

“So I had to get up and I had to go to Boston,’’ Lakshmi said. “I thought: I’m not going to disappoint all those people. . . . And I just said if I don’t want that rape, or what happened to me, to define me, then I have to move on and let the good things in my life define me, and I’ve had so many great things happen to me.’’

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Responses to the piece have been “super positive,’’ according to Lakshmi, but she ultimately wants to move forward. Like many men and women who have shared their stories of sexual assault, she wants to be more than that one thing that happened to her. “I don’t want to be known as ‘that girl from the cooking show who was raped’,’’ she added.

“I know more women who it’s happened to than it hasn’t happened to, in some form or another,’’ Lakshmi said. “I think we need to stop thinking of them as victims and start thinking of them as survivors.’’

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