SCOTT DETROW, HOST:
A quick heads-up - this next conversation has some content that some listeners will find difficult to hear. St. Paul's School in Concord, N.H., is one of the top boarding schools in the nation. It serves as a pipeline to some of the best colleges and universities - Princeton, Harvard, Stanford, to name a few. Those students go on to become luminaries - judges, authors, even secretaries of state. But it's also where author Lacy Crawford was sexually assaulted by two fellow students one night in October 1990. She documents that assault at the school and its long aftermath in her new memoir, "Notes On A Silencing." And Lacy Crawford joins us now from her home in Southern California.
Welcome to the program.
LACY CRAWFORD: Thank you so much.
DETROW: You know, at the beginning of the book, you wrestle with what words to use to describe what happened - sexual assault, aggravated assault, sexual misconduct, rape. And this probably is not uncommon for survivors. How did you finally settle on the language you wanted to use? And why did you think it was important to start off this book by saying, this is what I grappled with?
CRAWFORD: I know that when it happened to me, I did not have words for what was happening. I certainly didn't know what the criminal justice terms would have been. Being able to write the book required coming to understand exactly which words at least captured the experience of it and then which words I could use that would help other people to understand what it was that had happened to me.
DETROW: You write so powerfully about how, years later, it would enter your life in these really jarring ways with stray comments that people would make to you. And then you talk about how you finally reached this point of peace. Why that decision to, after all of that - you know what, I'm going to talk about this? I'm going to make it public. I'm going to share every detail, and I'm going to tell my story.
CRAWFORD: Right. So obviously, that was a very difficult decision, and it's not a decision that I ever would've come to had I not participated in the New Hampshire state investigation into St. Paul's School that began in 2017. Frankly, I got lucky. Detectives happened across documents that were in my student file that really outlined how the school had planned to silence me.
To see as an adult the blueprint was infuriating but also so validating. And I was confident that that document and others would be included in the state's investigation into the school. And when I found out it wasn't going to be, I truly didn't feel I had a choice any longer. They silenced me once when I was 15, 16 years old, and they weren't going to get away with it again.
DETROW: Can we walk through some of the specifics and some of the things that were really made clear to you on paper decades later? One of them is the fact that you contracted an STD from the assault. And the pain was so bad that you write it felt like you had swallowed a piece of glass, and it would not go down. It became kind of clear to you after the fact when you were young and then more clear later on looking at these documents that doctors knew this. The school knew this. No one bothered to tell you. And in fact, they told the lacrosse team before they told you.
CRAWFORD: Two pieces of this make me burn. The first is that, yes, I contracted herpes so deep in my throat that it couldn't be seen on ordinary exam. I had to see a specialist. The second part of this is the exposure, the shaming. And I do know that the school chose to tell other students that I was unwell before I myself knew, such that when I returned to campus, everybody already knew that I was ill. But nobody knew why or what had happened to me. The only way to speak to that kind of gossip was to tell what had happened to me, and I really didn't want to.
DETROW: It also seemed like your parents really struggled with their response. Can you tell us a bit about that and how you work through the way that your family dealt with this, too?
CRAWFORD: Had they been aware of the things that I know now, I have no doubt they would've made different choices. But I also, their child, was begging them. I just wanted to be an ordinary teenage girl. I wanted to go back to school and be a senior and apply to college and pretend none of this had ever happened. I think they allowed me my agency in that, and I'm grateful to them for that.
DETROW: So St. Paul's School did provide us with a statement regarding your story, and I want to read a section here. This was from the rector, essentially the principal of the school. (Reading) No one would want a teenager or any family to go through the experience that Lacy describes in her precise and powerful language. We admire her courage and respect her voice.
They go on to say, the way forward includes acknowledging and reckoning with our past in which there have been known and as yet unknown experiences of suffering and abuse. We are the better for those brave voices bringing their experiences forward, and we are committed to hearing and responding to their demand for recognition, accountability and change. I wonder, given what the school did to you, what your response is to a statement like that.
CRAWFORD: I will be honest with you and say that represents progress. I'm sorry that that is the way it is. And this is not unique to St. Paul's School. I think this happens everywhere all the time. And the school is under new leadership now. We have a female rector for the first time in the school's more-than-160-year history. I am hopeful that Kathy Giles, the current rector, will be able to, first, oversee the reckoning that has to happen. And I guarantee you it hasn't happened yet.
DETROW: There's been an excerpt in Vanity Fair. There's been a profile in The New York Times. We're having this conversation now. Other places are covering this book. Have you heard from any of your peers, your classmates? And what have they said?
CRAWFORD: I'm actually keeping a list in a small notebook here that I began just to make sure I replied to the notes that were coming in and that I now have continued because it reads to me like a poem. I'm sorry. It makes me emotional to say that. I have heard from St. Paul's schoolmates who say, I know who did this to you. I've always known. They were my friends. I'm so sorry. I am ashamed. Thank you for telling your story.
DETROW: And how's a note like that make you feel?
CRAWFORD: That, to me, is astonishing. That, to me, tells me that the conversations that I think institutions need to be having are actually possible because if a man in this instance is willing to write to me and claim his friends, I think the kind of evolution that I'm seeing in people's willingness to be thoughtful, to reach out is, to me, at least new.
DETROW: As people continue to come forward with their stories of assault and violence, what would you say to someone who is trying to navigate this kind of violation and the systemic protections that seem to still snap into place when something like this happens?
CRAWFORD: I would like to say, don't be afraid. And I would like to say, don't be ashamed. But I think for a long time, we've tried to help survivors of violence of all kinds by asking them to change how they feel about themselves. What we've been missing - or at least I was missing - is to show them the forces that are arrayed against them and that are, in fact, asking them to carry that responsibility and carry that shame. I want all of the girls and women who have ever been made to carry the blame for the aggression of men, the aggression of others - I wanted them to see that they were intended to carry that blame and that it was never theirs.
DETROW: Lacy Crawford is the author of "Notes On A Silencing."
Lacy, thank you so much.
CRAWFORD: Thank you so much, Scott.
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