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Girls & Women

Actress Amber Tamblyn Says We Need to Stop Questioning Women’s Sexual Assault Stories

Amber Tamblyn backstage at 26th Annual Literary Awards Festival at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel on Wednesday, September 28, 2016, in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Photo by Casey Curry/Invision/AP

The majority of sexual assaults in the US are not reported.

“What’s the point, if you won’t be believed?” actress Amber Tamblyn poignantly asks in her powerful New York Times op-ed. But as the title of her piece says, Tamblyn is “done with not being believed.”

In the article, Tamblyn shares a story about being stalked by a crew member at the age of 21. Perhaps more shockingly is that Tamblyn, who was then starring in “Joan of Arcadia,” informed her producer of the situation only to be told “there are two sides to every story.”

But “for women in America who come forward with stories of harassment, abuse and sexual assault, there are not two sides to every story, however noble that principle might seem,” Tamblyn writes. “Women do not get to have a side. They get to have an interrogation. Too often, they are questioned mercilessly about whether their side is legitimate.”

Women who report sexual assault and rape in the US are often met with criticism and doubt. The burden of proof is frequently on victims of sexual assault to show that the incident actually occurred and was “unwanted” or uninvited. So two out of three incidents of sexual assaults go unreported, and only six in every 1000 rapists will be incarcerated, according to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network.

Tamblyn’s op-ed is, in part, a response to tweets from the actor James Woods, who Tamblyn says tried to take her to Las Vegas, Nevada, when she was just 16 years old. Upon telling him she was underage, Woods responded “even better.”

Woods denied Tamblyn’s story, accusing her of lying. His accusation forced the actress to recall all the times she had nervously shared her concerns with men in positions of power, only to be questioned and disbelieved, the star of “The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants” wrote.

She also penned an open letter to Woods, which appears on Teen Vogue.

“Since you've now called me a liar, I will now call you a silencer,” the 34-year-old actress wrote. “I see your gaslight and now will raise you a scorched earth.”

“I was just a girl. And I'm going to wager that there have been many girls who were just girls or women who were just women who you've done this to because you can get away with it.”

Neither Tamblyn’s open letter nor her New York Times op-ed is intended to just clap back at Woods. She wants to change the larger, pervasive culture in the US that enables sexual harassment and assault to be “normalized,” she said.

“The saddest part of this story doesn't even concern me but concerns the universal woman's story. The nation's harmful narrative of disbelieving women first, above all else,” she laments in the Teen Vogue letter. “Asking them to first corroborate or first give proof or first make sure we're not misremembering.”

She emphasized this point on Twitter, clarifying that her op-ed is not just about Woods, but about a larger cultural phenomenon that shields men like Woods from the consequences of their actions.

This is not the first time Tamblyn has spoken up against sexual assault and violence against women. Tamblyn was outraged by then-presidential candidate Donald Trump’s “grab ‘em by the pussy” comments last year.

She bravely shared her own story of assault. 

“To this day I remember that moment. I remember the shame,” she said on Instagram.

I need to tell you a story. With the love and support of my husband, I've decided to share it publicly. A very long time ago I ended a long emotionally and physically abusive relationship with a man I had been with for some time. One night I was at a show with a couple girlfriends in Hollywood, listening to a DJ we all loved. I knew there was a chance my ex could show up, but I felt protected with my girls around me. Without going into all the of the details, I will tell you that my ex did show up, and came up to me in the crowd. He's a big guy, taller than me. The minute he saw me, he picked me up with one hand by my hair and with his other hand, he grabbed me under my skirt by my vagina— my pussy?— and lifted me up off the floor, literally, and carried me, like something he owned, like a piece of trash, out of the club. His fingers were practically inside of me, his other hand wrapped tightly around my hair. I screamed and kicked and cried. He carried me this way, suspended by his hands, all the way across the room, pushing past people until he got to the front door. My friends ran after him, trying to stop him. We got to the front door and I thank God his brothers were also there and intervened. In the scuffle he grabbed at my clothes, trying to hold onto me, screaming at me, and inadvertently ripped off my grandmother’s necklace, which I was wearing. The rest of this night is a blur I do not remember. How I got out to the car. How I got away from him that night. I never returned for my necklace either. That part of my body, which the current Presidential Nominee of the United States Donald Trump recently described as something he’d like to grab a woman by, was bruised from my ex-boyfriend's violence for at least the next week. I had a hard time wearing jeans. I couldn’t sleep without a pillow between my legs to create space. To this day I remember that moment. I remember the shame. I am afraid my mom will read this post. I'm even more afraid that my father could ever know this story. That it would break his heart. I couldn't take that. But you understand, don't you? I needed to tell a story. Enjoy the debates tonight.

A post shared by Amber Tamblyn (@amberrosetamblyn) on

“I have been afraid of speaking out or asking things of men in positions of power for years,” she wrote in the New York Times, but she won’t be keeping quiet any longer. “The women I know, myself included, are done, though, playing the credentials game. We are learning that the more we open our mouths, the more we become a choir. And the more we are a choir, the more the tune is forced to change.”

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