One night in October 1990, a young Lacy Crawford took a phone call at her dorm, surprised to hear an older boy pleading for her to come help him. Crawford was mystified but convinced there must be a reason, so she slipped across her boarding school campus and met the boy at his dorm window. When she climbed inside, she was confronted by the boy and his roommate, both stripped down to their underwear. That night would haunt her for decades to come.
In Notes on a Silencing, Crawford emphasizes that the sexual assault she experienced was not unusual. “It’s so simple, what happened at St. Paul’s. It happens all the time,” she writes. “First, they refused to believe me. Then they shamed me. Then they silenced me.” She describes St. Paul’s as a lauded, sometimes lonely place where privileged teens were obsessed with their academic futures. (The author, when faced with the possibility of not returning for her senior year, pleaded with her parents: But what about Princeton?)
Crawford, a novelist, uses her storytelling skill to illuminate the myriad ways female students were taught that their desires and bodies were less valuable than—even subject to—those of their male peers. She’d had other sexual experiences as a teenager, a fact her teachers later used against her. When she began to experience physical ailments because of her assault, Crawford was certain it was a result of “what she had done.” She was so wrecked by the experience that she saw herself, not the boys, as the one to blame.
Crawford’s detailed account of her assault and its aftermath relies on an indelible memory as well as careful research. Medical reports and other documentation help her piece together the school’s reaction when she revisits it decades later, after other victims began holding the school accountable.
Notes on a Silencing is a ghastly account, beautifully told, of a teenage girl learning that people in power often value reputation above all else.