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  • Writer's pictureThe Bossy Bookworm

Review of Notes on a Silencing: A Memoir by Lacy Crawford

Crawford's memoir lays bare systemic lies, gross injustices, horrifying abuses of privilege and power, and longstanding patterns of unprosecuted assaults at elite St. Paul's boarding school--as well as the persistent tragic, infuriating, shaming treatment of assault victims.

“It’s so simple, what happened at St. Paul’s. It happens all the time. First, they refused to believe me. Then they shamed me. Then they silenced me.”

Crawford thought the trauma of her assault at St. Paul's boarding school decades earlier was behind her. It had shaped who she was in many senses, but she was a grown woman with a full life, and she was not regularly reliving the crushing weight of it as a vivid horror any longer. But when evidence of extensive sexual assault and new allegations at St. Paul's School came to light, she added her voice to the throng of the attacked and abused, opening her own long-closed (and hitherto unknown to her) file and seeing for the first time the brutal facts of her own attack, as well as the ensuing, elaborate efforts to keep secret the events surrounding her situation.

She dove back into pages of interviews and information detailing the fifteen-year-old she was then--a choir member; a three-season athlete; an excellent student; the daughter of a priest; a naive minor, emotionally and sexually--and realized that an institutional cover-up of sexual abuse had taken place for decades at the school that had pledged to protect and educate the young people within its walls.

In Notes on a Silencing, Crawford, now a wife and mother, considers the many infuriating, appalling intersections in her life--of power and abuse, intimacy and sex, reputation and recommendation, toxic masculinity and willful ignorance on the part of those who might have protected the vulnerable children under their charge. She reflects on how to best bravely and honestly face the reality of her experience and its implications in order to reach some version of justice, or healing, or merely bringing light to the darkness. She says, “I believe...that the opposite of slut is not virtue but voice. So I’ve written what happened, exactly as I remember.”

She faces the myriad challenges of reliving and asserting her decades-old case yet again, against continued resistance and "ravenous paternalistic entitlement of the school" that seems disturbingly and continually willing to value its reputation over the safety and security of its teenage students.

“There is always the danger that the energy of the injustice will exhaust itself in the revelation--that we will be horrified but remain unchanged. The reason for this, I suspect, is that these are stories we all already know. The girl was assaulted. The boy was molested. The producer, the judge, the bishop, the boss.”

Crawford's often brutal account of her teenage years and all that occurred after her attack inspired a simmering, murderous rage in me as I read it. Horrifying elements the young teen was subjected to include repeated male abuse of power as well as sexual assault, a shocking lack of accountability, and multiple, evilly creative lies designed to destroy a victim's credibility and future. Add to that her parents' unequipped, inept, wanting reactions and subsequent distant, mute treatment of Lacy, and the aftereffects of the living hell she went through wreak havoc at school, while internalized by Crawford into her sense of self, and into the broken heart of her family.

The topic is crushing, but Crawford's writing is wonderful in its honest and unflinching reflections on society, her own experiences, the horrifying power of privilege, and the abhorrent treatment of assault victims.

Any Bossy thoughts about this book?

Have you read this powerful book?

I mentioned this book in the Greedy Reading List (along with I'm Still Here and The Year of the Witching in Three Books I'm Reading Now, 12/14/20 Edition.

Know My Name by Chanel Miller is another memoir that thoughtfully reflects on sexual assault, societal injustices, and the often shameful treatment of victims.


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