I no longer remember how Notes on a Silencing by Lacy Crawford (Little, Brown & Company, 2020) ended up on my TBR, but the library turned out to not have the format I needed for my kindle, so once again, interlibrary loan saved the day!
In her second year at a private Episcopal boarding school in New England, Lacy Crawford is sexually assaulted by two male students. To compound the horror of the situation, she contracts herpes in her throat (deep enough that it’s obvious to medical professionals that there’s no way this could have been consensual), and the school not only learns of this years before Lacy does, they warn other students about her. And when Lacy finally breaks her silence, the school does everything it can to shut her up, including threatening to ruin her reputation by spreading lies about her.
In response, years later, Lacy Crawford wrote this book.
This is one of the bravest books I’ve ever read. It’s tragic, in the way that books are when their authors reveal so much personal pain, but there’s even more tragedy here: Lacy feels obligated to lay out all the details of every sexual encounter she had while at the school- some consensual, others not- in order to not only give a fuller picture of her experiences, but to get ahead of the officials from the school who may have tried to use her sexual history against her (because we all know how that goes. One consensual experience is all it takes to turn a girl or a woman into a raving slut in the eyes of the world. Consent to physical contact with a single man and that means you’re asking for it from everyone. What a disgusting society we’ve created). Women shouldn’t have to go through this in order to be believed, but Lacy knows exactly what she’s up against and bares her soul and her past in a raw, open way on these pages.
This is an emotionally difficult read, but it’s a story that will be familiar to every woman out there (men, I need you to step up and read this book and realize what we go through, what we’re subject to, what your daughters and sisters and mother and friends have lived under the shadow of our entire lives). The school officials threatening Lacy and passing along her private medical information- that SHE hadn’t even been told of- to the student body. The nastiness of the student body. Lacy’s desperation to reclaim some sort of agency over her life and her body. People constantly bringing up the STD Lacy contracted from the assault to her, decades later (on what PLANET is that an okay subject to broach with anyone but your closest friends who have made it known that this is acceptable to discuss?????) The way the school handled this is both utterly horrifying and humdrum at the same time- humdrum because this is how things work in this world. Men are allowed to hurt us, assault us, affect us, and walk free, and we shoulder the blame, the guilt, the costs.
Good for Lacy Crawford for finding her voice and shouting from the rooftops about the cesspool behind the administration at St. Paul’s of Concord, New Hampshire. It’s long past time that women started speaking out about the wrongs done to us and about the many ways these institutions will throw us under the bus in the scramble to protect their own reputation. The language used in this book is powerful and damning, and I’m in awe of Ms. Crawford’s bravery. If you have the emotional bandwidth of this book, I highly recommend it. It’s one of the finest examples of strength and bravery I’ve ever read.