Kerry Washington opens up about the lingering impacts of experiencing sexual assault

After being “gaslit” by her alleged abuser, Kerry Washington says, “I've spent a lot of my life trying to beat back — the messaging that I don't know my own truth.”

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Kerry Washington attends the 55th Annual NAACP Awards (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images)

Kerry Washington says she’s adamant about living and sharing her truth. However, during the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books in Los Angeles on Saturday, the star revealed that her candor stemmed from her experience surviving a sexual assault. 

Within her bestselling 2023 memoir “Thicker Than Water,” Washington opened up about her life experiences and journey to self-discovery. In addition to sharing moments like finding out her father, Earl Washington, was not her biological father, the “Scandal” star revealed she was sexually assaulted during childhood and reflected on how that experience shaped her perspective in the book. 

“The version of the story that I want to tell is the version of figuring out the truth of who I am and what were the obstacles that got in the way of me being able to know my truth and experience my truth,” Washington said, per People magazine. “And one of those things was that I had survived this sexual assault that was happening at night.”

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In Washington’s recounting, she reveals that the assaults occurred during childhood sleepovers. Without identifying her alleged abuser, Washington explains that the person was not a pedophile but another child from her neighborhood who touched her inappropriately and without her consent while she was sleeping. 

“And why it was relevant to the story is because of the ways that I was gaslit that I didn’t know that something, I didn’t know what was happening at night, but I knew that something was happening,” she explained. “When I approached the person who was doing it, he told me that it was in my imagination and that I didn’t know what I was talking about, and that I was crazy.” 

Admitting that her compassion for her alleged abuser played a part in her long keeping the incidents a secret, Washington’s unreported assault is a common occurrence in the United States. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, only 310 out of every 1,000 sexual assaults are reported to the police, meaning two-thirds of sexual assault incidents go unreported. Similarly, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center found that only 12% of sexual abuse cases with children are reported to authorities. 

In addition to being one of the most unreported crimes, experts have found victims of sexual trauma can experience lingering effects. In Washington’s experience, the gaslighting she experienced when confronting her abuser impacted her journey into adulthood. 

“And that became a framework that I found myself fighting against a lot of my life, that if I had an instinctive thought about something, an intuitive idea about something, there was another thread of messaging in my brain that said, ‘You’re crazy. You don’t know what you’re talking about. That’s not really true.’ So that’s what I feel like I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to beat back — the messaging that I don’t know my own truth,”