Assaulted at 15, a Writer Looks Back and Comes Forward

There are so many upsetting issues concerning the assault Lacy Crawford suffered in 1990, when she was 15 and a junior at St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire, however probably the most upsetting is how commonplace she believes it was.

“This may sound disingenuous, but I don’t think my assault is particularly interesting,” she mentioned in an interview earlier this month. She speaks intentionally, calmly, as if observing her emotions at a take away. “There are so many stories of abuse and assault. Mine is one of just a dime a dozen.”

Crawford has had 30 years to grapple with what occurred that day. But her memoir, “Notes on a Silencing,” out subsequent Tuesday from Little, Brown, focuses far more on what got here afterward. For her, St. Paul’s response solely compounded the assault, piling a second trauma on prime of the primary.

“The way they came to their own conclusions about what happened,” Crawford, now 45, mentioned by cellphone from Southern California, the place she lives along with her husband and three sons, “that was breathtaking to me and remains breathtaking to me.”

She added: “The edge has not come off that.”

The particulars are horrible to repeat and horrible to learn: how two senior boys pinned Crawford down, grabbed her breasts, unzipped her denims and penetrated her with their fingers; how they jammed their penises deep into her mouth; how they bragged about it afterward. The assault left her feverish and with a chronically uncooked, bleeding throat that made speaking and consuming painful, she writes. It turned out that she had been contaminated with herpes.

The faculty’s story — at least the story officers informed Crawford’s devastated mother and father — was that the encounter was consensual, that their daughter introduced it on herself, that she was promiscuous and hardly a sufferer. They by no means requested Lacy for her personal account, she writes, and they made it clear that until she dropped the matter she wouldn’t have the ability to return to highschool.

“Trust me,” one official informed her father. “She’s not a good girl.”

As far as St. Paul’s was involved, the difficulty was then closed. The boys who attacked her weren’t accused of wrongdoing, and Crawford doesn’t title them in her e book. She returned to highschool, graduating in 1992, however she felt like a ghost of a individual, shrouded in personal distress, rendered unvoiced at the same time as her throat healed. Her pals drifted away; different college students whispered about her; somebody threw issues at her from a dorm window as she walked by. She made herself “as silent and slender as I could,” she writes. “I was diseased; I was disgraced; I was alone.”

St. Paul’s, like a number of other private boarding schools, including Phillips Academy, Choate Rosemary Hall, Phillips Exeter Academy, the Hotchkiss School and St. George’s School, has in recent years had to face up to and answer for decades of sexual abuse and misconduct. In 2017, a report commissioned by St. Paul’s found substantiated abuse reports by faculty members of students stretching back as far as 1948.

In 2018, the school reached a settlement with the New Hampshire attorney general that put the institution under the state’s oversight for five years — and installed a compliance officer on campus — to ensure that it followed basic protocols about protecting students and investigating complaints. Crawford was interviewed as part of the attorney general’s investigation. A spokesman for the attorney general’s office said her participation had helped provide the basis for “what we continue to believe is an unprecedented settlement with the school.”

Kathy Giles, who last year became St. Paul’s rector, as the principal is called, said in an interview that the school did not dispute Crawford’s account.

“We respect Lacy’s courage and we admire her voice,” Giles said. “There’s a truth to her experience that’s powerful and important.”

The school is committed to doing better by its students, she added. “Who would want that experience for anyone — for Lacy, for her family, for her friends?” she said. “If there’s anything we’ve learned, it’s that we have to receive the stories and respect the experience and then take what steps we need to address the hurt and pain.”

After Giles read an advance copy of the book, she requested a meeting with Crawford. The two had lunch in California last winter.

“She apologized six different ways to Wednesday,” Crawford said. “I said thank you, and I thought that that and my Starbucks card could get me a latte. But so far, the quality of our discourse makes me hopeful.”

For years, Crawford kept her story private. She went to Princeton, volunteered as a rape crisis counselor, wrote her master’s thesis on the use of rape testimony in legal cases, and worked as a high school teacher and environmental campaigner, among other jobs. Before “Notes on a Silencing,” she wrote “Early Decision,” a satirical novel about the college admissions process based on her work as a private admissions counselor.

She never planned to write a book about her attack. It was only after she learned about Chessy Prout, a St. Paul’s student who was sexually assaulted in 2014, when she was 15, and who waived her anonymity to discuss the case publicly, that Crawford began to think afresh about telling her story. (Owen Labrie, the St. Paul’s student convicted of Prout’s assault, served six months in jail.)

Crawford started writing her book in the fall of 2017, working while her three young sons were at school, and on weekends, when her husband took them on daylong outings. By March 2018, she had most of a first draft.

“The thing about assault is that it devastates so many people,” she said. “Not just the victim, but also the people who are told and who share the pain; and the people who are told and don’t know how to respond; and the people who aren’t told but feel that something really bad has entered the room but can’t put it into words.”

Therapy, a loving marriage, raising her children and writing the book all helped Crawford come through to the other side of her experience — to redress the balance of power between herself and the boys who assaulted her, between herself and the school that betrayed her. The thing about a book is that you get to have the last word.

“I felt utterly exposed and shamed,” she said of her younger self. “It was a very small community, and it was all I had at that age. But for me now, I’m not going to hold on to it any more. I’m done with shame.”

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