Sammy Nickalls
March 30, 2016 1:31 pm

Warning: This post contains a description of sexual violence

Yesterday, in Lena Dunham’s newsletter Lenny Letter, Luckiest Girl Alive author Jessica Knoll opened up for the first time about how her own gang rape during freshman year of high school informed the events of the novel.

Luckiest Girl Alive published less than a year ago and has already made an incredible impact. The New York Times reports the book sold over 450,000 copies, spent four months on the best-seller list, and a movie adaptation is in development by a little somebody named Reese Witherspoon. In her raw essay for Lenny entitled “What I Know,” Jessica explained that the gang rape shown in the novel was loosely based on real events in her own life — when she was assaulted by three boys at a party at age 15.

Jessica explained that she had previously been asserting that her book’s gang rape scene — of her novel’s main character, 28-year-old Tifani Fanelli (Ani) — as fiction to her readers. Discussing her real-life connection to her character was simply too painful. “I’ve been running and I’ve been ducking and I’ve been dodging because I’m scared,” she wrote in the essay. “I’m scared people won’t call what happened to me rape because for a long time, no one did. . . There’s no reason to cover my head. There’s no reason I shouldn’t say what I know.”

The scene in Luckiest Girl Alive, she explained, came from fragments of memories from a party in which Jessica blacked out, then came to while being assaulted by a boy. She woke up later once again to a toilet bowl filled with blood, not knowing where it came from. She woke the next morning next to another boy who she barely knew. When Jessica went to the clinic later to get the morning-after pill, she asked if she’d been raped; the doctor told her she wasn’t qualified to say. 

But the pain for Jessica Knoll was just beginning. Her classmates just chalked it up to her being a crazy party girl. They called her a ‘slut’ and almost no one called what had happened to her ‘rape’:

So many victims of sexual assault are criticized for hesitating to come forward, for not reacting the “right” way — but Jessica knows firsthand that this is an ignorant, cruel way to police the actions of victims. “. . . I submitted to my assigned narrative,” she wrote. “What was the point in raising my voice when all it got me was my own lonely echo? Like Ani, the only way I knew to survive was to laugh loudly at my rapists’ jokes, speak softly to the mean girls, and focus on chiseling my tunnel out of there.”

She explained that, from then on, she was “obsessed with reinventing [her]self” to “transcend” her reputation — much like her character Ani. “Healing will come when I snuff out the shame, when I rip the shroud off the truth,” she wrote. “If I were a victim of the other horrific crime in my book, I would talk about it openly. I wouldn’t pretend like it hadn’t happened to me, like I don’t still hurt about it, like I don’t still cry about it. Why should this be any different?” Surely, many people have experienced sexual violence can completely relate to her feelings.

After publishing her essay in Lenny, Jessica has received a flood of supportive messages thanking her for speaking publicly about sexual violence. “The reaction has been overwhelming,” she told BuzzFeed about her Lenny piece. “. . . I’m hearing from a lot of women who have gone through similar experiences and I want to let them know that they’re not alone, that they’ve been heard. . . I hope more women speak up because the more we do, the more we change the idea of what rape and victim behavior looks like.”

We have an enormous amount of respect for Jessica Knoll for the bravery she has shown, both in writing this essay for Lenny and for telling Ani’s story in Luckiest Girl Alive. We already knew it was an incredible book, so it’s no surprise that the author is an incredible human being as well.