Don Lemon teared up on live television while revealing that someone close to him said she had been sexually assaulted, telling CNN viewers Monday that survivors share their experiences in their own time and in their own ways.
When he asked her why she hadn’t told him sooner, he said, she replied: “Shame.”
“And even though it happened then,” the CNN host said Monday, “there is still pain now. And it still matters now.”
The emotional moment came after two women accused Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh of sexual assault.
The White House has questioned why it took so long for Kavanaugh’s accusers to share their stories; after Kavanaugh’s first accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, spoke out about an incident in the 1980s, President Trump wondered on Twitter, “Why didn’t someone call the FBI 36 years ago?”
And after a second accuser, Deborah Ramirez, came forward in an interview with the New Yorker, White House spokeswoman Kerri Kupec told the magazine: “This 35-year-old, uncorroborated claim is the latest in a coordinated smear campaign by the Democrats designed to tear down a good man.”
In response, Lemon said he knows personally that there “is no standard way survivors talk about sexual assault.”
“It isn’t always a police phone call and a rape kit, or a report filed with HR,” Lemon said on CNN. “Sometimes they don’t talk at all — for years, even decades. Sometimes a little comes out in a conversation with a friend, partner or a doctor. And sometimes it comes out all at once.”
“Why is it so hard to talk about?” he continued. “Well, part of it is fear and part of it is doubt — ‘Will I be believed? Will I be blamed? Will I have evidence? Do I have to relive what happened? Will everyone judge me? And if I speak out, will it even matter?’”
Lemon said he knows firsthand that “no one ever wants to come forward, even to family, friends or loved ones, let alone the entire country.”
The cable host has said that he was sexually assaulted when he was young, but he did not publicly speak about the experience until 2010. It was then that he opened up about it on the air, while interviewing members of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church about sexual abuse allegations against Bishop Eddie Long.
“You want me to tell you what got my attention about this?” Lemon said at the time. “And I’ve never admitted this on television: I am a victim of a pedophile when I was a kid — someone who was much older than me.”
Lemon said Monday that his alleged abuser was a teenager. That’s why, he said, he has been upset by some of the arguments that have been made in Kavanaugh’s defense.
“It has been really frustrating to me to hear people ignorantly excusing a 17-year-old possibly committing sexual assault as ‘boys will be boys,’ ‘teenage hormones,’ ‘testosterone at work here,’” Lemon said. “Well let me tell you, in my life, it hasn’t mattered if the person was 17 or 70. The pain and the damage are real, and it never goes away.”
In the United States, it is estimated that someone is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds and that a child is victimized every eight minutes, according to statistics from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN). The nonprofit organization said on Twitter earlier this week that “hearing about sexual violence in the media and online can be very difficult for survivors and their loved ones. Remember to take care of yourself during these times.”
Lemon said that although it is important that those who are accused remain innocent until they are proved guilty, “some guilty people do cloak themselves in innocence.”
He said Kavanaugh’s accusers should be heard and their stories investigated.
“Are we interested in truth? Are we interested in healing?” he said. “Or is there, as there always seems to be these days, a political game being played with people’s lives?”