Brow Beat

Amandla Stenberg Recounts the Trauma of Sexual Assault in Essay Inspired by Christine Blasey Ford

Amandla Stenberg stands in front of a pink wall, wearing a black and white suit, and braids with purple and pink highlights.
Amandla Stenberg.
Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

Actor and political activist Amandla Stenberg, who most recently starred in The Hate U Give, has written a gripping and poetic essay for Teen Vogue about their experience with sexual assault, inspired by Christine Blasey Ford’s decision to testify against now-confirmed Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh. (Stenberg has expressed a preference for they/them pronouns, although the Teen Vogue article uses “she.”) In the essay, Stenberg writes about being a victim of assault, citing Ford’s decision to come forward as inspiring but sad. “Watching Dr. Ford’s testimony pushed me and so many others to move through discomfort that we’d buried,” they write.

Stenberg describes the self blame that followed the assault, which occurred in a foreign country, forcing them to travel three hours by train to find emergency contraception while experiencing the “guilt and shame that often follows an unwarranted sexual experience.” Stenberg also illuminates what prevents many people from coming forward with accounts of assault: “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.”

But Stenberg addresses not only the responsibility that is forced on victims of assault to fight against immoral actors, but also how survivors often feel obligated to isolate themselves from support. “I don’t have a single friend who isn’t a straight cis man who hasn’t experienced assault in some way, shape, or form,” they write. “However, we often feel the responsibility to carry the burden of trauma alone. We didn’t turn to one another to say, ‘This happened to me and I’m not OK.’”

Stenberg’s essay is at its most striking when they describe how they had come to expect this kind of violation when it came to powerful men. Noting that the attacker was powerful among their peer group, Stenberg writes, “Often the trade-off of being invited into spaces by these sorts of cis straight men and getting their approval was the acceptance that what I had to contribute was the value of my body as a woman. Implicit within that was the notion that, because my body served such a transactional purpose, it was no longer just my property. That was a form of social currency I was familiar with and, honestly, at times accepted.”

Stenberg is one of many survivors to come forward with their stories as a result of Ford’s very public testimony, with those speaking up not only revealing experiences with sexual assault but also elucidating why reporting often feels impossible in the aftermath of an assault. The Teen Vogue essay ends with a reminder to other survivors: “It is not your fault.”