Lena Dunham on reaction to rape claims: 'You can help by saying I believe you'

"I have had my character and credibility questioned at every turn," said Dunham of her sexual assault claim

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The Independent Online

Lena Dunham has revealed why she spoke out about being raped while she was at college and addressed some of the negative responses that she’s had since.

The Girls creator and actress first discussed the incident in her book, Not That Kind of Girl, when she alleged that she was sexually assaulted by a fellow Oberlin College student, who removed his condom without her permission.

Dunham was forced to visit a doctor the next day because of the pain she experienced after the alleged assault.

She decided to write about her experience as a means of “exposing my shame, letting it dry out in the sun”, but was surprised by the reaction she consequently received.

Although she says she wasn’t “naive enough” to think that her essay on the subject would be met “with pure empathy or wild applause”, such is the “tension building around definitions of consent”, she hoped that she would not be pressed to “reopen these wounds or deepen my trauma”.

“But this did not prove to be the case,” she wrote on Buzzfeed. “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.”

She added that she has been made to feel that she could have prevented the assault, that she is partly to blame. Her work has been dissected to prove her claims false, “or worse, a deviant myself”, and her family and friends contacted.

“I have a certain empathy for the journalists who asked me questions like whether I regret how much I drank that night or what my attacker would say if he was asked about me,” she commented.

“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.”

Dunham used a pseudonym in the book for her alleged perpetrator, calling him Barry, “a mustachioed campus Republican”.

A man, also named Barry, a Republican from Oberlin, is now seeking legal action, asserting the description is too similar to his and claiming the book has damaged his reputation.

The issue of consent and sexual assault has been widely discussed over recent months. Former footballer and convicted rapist Ched Evans, who released from prison in October having served half his five-and-a-half-year sentence, has continuously protested his innocence, alleging that the sex was consensual.

Numerous women who have recently accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault have had the authenticity of their claims questioned by the actor’s lawyers, who questioned why they hadn’t approached the police or come forward when the incidents took place.

Dunham too did not report the incident, who said she was too “afraid” of the ramifications of doing so.

“Speaking out about the realities and complexities of sexual assault is how we begin to protect each other,” said Dunham

“You can help by never defining a survivor by what has been taken from her. You can help by saying I believe you.”