Tag Archives: Sexual Assault

Newsweek: Author Neesha Arter on Her Memoir, Survival and Self-Love


Q&A: Author Neesha Arter on Her Memoir, Survival and Self-Love

Neesha Arter’s new memoir, “Controlled,” deals with trauma at a young age and the pursuit of bodily perfection.COURTESY OF THE AUTHOR

No band in history has written a lyric that more aptly describes the anxiety for perfection quite like Radiohead, in its first hit, “Creep”: “I want to have control / I want a perfect body / I want a perfect soul.” More than 20 years after Thom Yorke penned this confessional line, the idea of perfection is still fraught: It’s often a goal, an obsession and, in some cases, a coping mechanism for many people.

In her harrowing new memoir, Controlled, 24-year-old author and journalist Neesha Arter (The New York Observer, The New York Times) writes—in poignant detail—how an obsession with achieving bodily perfection was a damaging way that she dealt with trauma at 14. Simmering in blame and confusion after she was raped by two former friends, Arter attempted to push away the horrific experience by focusing on losing weight and tried to disappear completely through anorexia. What ensued speaks volumes about our contemporary image-obsessed culture, one that also wallows in silence and shame.

“There is a common superstition that ‘self-respect’ is a kind of charm against snakes, something that keeps those who have it locked in some unblighted Eden, out of strange beds, ambivalent conversations, and trouble in general,” Joan Didion wrote in her celebrated essay “On Self-Respect.” She continues: “It does not at all. It has nothing to do with the face of things, but concerns instead a separate peace, a private reconciliation.”

This private reconciliation Didion wrote about in 1961 is still something that’s so difficult to grapple with. “On Self-Respect” is a favorite essay of Arter’s; fitting, as Controlled speaks so precisely to how difficult it can be to shed self-loathing and blame, and what happens when one can recognize the need for help and come out the other side stronger and more capable. Upon the release of her memoir Tuesday, Arter spoke with Newsweek about survival and speaking out.

First of all, thank you for writing this memoir. With the Bill Cosby accusations so visible in culture right now, it’s high time for your book to come out.

I know. I agree. I think it’s good timing. I love the New York mag piece. Did you watch the videos? The one where the woman said she was doing it for her daughter and started crying? These people are my heroes.

Your book is super-detailed, down to the specifics of clothes and conversations. Did you keep a diary back then?

The beauty of being young and writing a memoir…. I wrote a draft when I was 18, which was just four years later. And I’m still very close friends with the three friends [Jane, Emma and Brad] I put in the book. The character Brad is my best friend to this day. So when I was writing it, he was reading it along and helping me. But it was hard to forget. To this day I can still remember a lot. Specifically the year 14…. I don’t think I’m going to forget that.

Grappling with what happened is harrowing, of course, but was it also a fight to get this book published?

Here’s a bit of the process: I wrote it when I was 18. I was lucky, I had a phenomenal mentor who was the head of the creative writing department. I was a creative writing major. He always believed in me. I don’t know if this would have been possible without him. So I kept working on it—it was my senior thesis. It’s funny, when I first wrote this book I thought, If I can get this book published, I can get over it. I can move on with my life, because I never thought about it for four years. I was 14. When the legal case ended at 15, I thought, OK, this is done. Pushed it away, pushed it away. Then brought it back up, went to therapy. I was always trying to get a [literary] agent, but I was in L.A. and that’s not really the place for that.

So when I was about to graduate, I came [to New York], had a couple of interviews and was like, OK, I’m going to do it. I moved to New York, but didn’t know anyone here. At one point I worked with an editor who…wasn’t very nice. It’s hard because not everyone is going to believe in you. You have to believe in yourself more than anything. People think that these are so female, women’s issues. No. This is a human issue.

8/11_controlled_coverThe cover of Neesha Arter’s “Controlled.” COURTESY OF THE AUTHOR

He’s been accused for decades, and it took [comedian] Hannibal Buress telling a joke about him to make this visible. 

The shame has got to go, especially when [none of the women] did anything wrong. This is absurd. I was at this photo shoot for something, and this makeup artist was asking me if I was nervous for the book to come out. I said, “Well, yeah, it’s a little nerve-wracking.” And she says, “Do you think guys will think you’re difficult to date because you’re damaged?” I was, like, This is crazy. If you’re sexually assaulted, it’s not your fault. That was upsetting. But if I listened to half the things people said to me, I wouldn’t leave my house in the morning.

Read More at Newsweek.


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New York Times/ Women In The World: Campus Sexual Assault

Campus sex assault

“You’re more likely to have someone look into a stolen laptop than a rape”

Vice takes a look at how some U.S. universities are dealing with rape on campus

On Wednesday night in New York City, Vice on HBO held an advanced screening of its new segment “Campus Cover-up,” at Columbia University, which has been a center of media attention regarding the college rape epidemic. It is at Columbia that a student, Emma Sulkowicz, used performance art to shame a fellow student she alleged had raped her. Sulkowicz lugged a 50-pound dorm mattress with her from class to class and everywhere she went on campus beginning in September of 2014. The controversial mattress made its final appearance at Class Day last month, when both the accused and accuser graduated.


Read the article at Women In The World.

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Interview with Neesha Arter: US Department of Health and Human Services, Women’s Health

An Interview About Sexual Assault: Neesha Arter

It’s your body. You have the right to decide what you do and don’t do sexually. When someone takes that power away from you, it is a crime. And no matter the circumstances, it is not your fault.

It took Neesha Arter years to finally accept that what happened to her on New Year’s Eve when she was 14 was not her fault. That night, she was sexually assaulted by two boys she knew and trusted. Now, at 23, she’s speaking out about her experience. She talks about helping other young women realize they’re not alone and that what happened to them isn’t their fault.

Photo of Neesha Arter
Neesha Arter

Neesha Arter is a journalist and author in New York City. Her memoir, Controlled, which recounts her sexual assault at 14, will be published in August 2015. Her work has appeared in The Daily Beast, the New York Observer, and New York Magazine.

Q: Will you tell us a little bit about what happened the night you were sexually assaulted?

A: When I was 14, I was at a New Year’s Eve party and was sexually assaulted by two of my cousin’s friends. I was visiting family in Houston, Texas.

Q: What were some of the emotional effects you experienced?

A: The post-traumatic stress was something that definitely affected me, but I never realized what was going on because I was so young. I spent all of my days going through the motions. I didn’t want to think about what happened, but because my parents pressed charges against the two boys, I was dealing with a legal case. I wanted nothing to do with it. I felt very ashamed of what happened, and I wanted to pretend like everything was fine. Dealing with the case was the most difficult part, because it wouldn’t let me pretend nothing had happened. It was a daily reminder, and my need to regain some control in my life led to my eating disorder.

Q: How did you deal with these feelings??

A: I ended up coping with the trauma by not eating and trying to pretend like nothing happened. Anorexia consumed me. It was the only thing I thought about besides the legal case. I put a great deal of energy into trying not to deal with these feelings. I didn’t deal with them until I wrote my book, Controlled, four years later.

Q: How did being a survivor of sexual assault affect the rest of your high school experience?

A: My friends stuck with me. They were unbelievably supportive. I was able to get through it because my parents and friends believed me after other people didn’t. They’re all heroic to me.

Q: How did you eventually cope with this traumatic event in your past?

A: Writing Controlled during my first year of college helped me reach closure on this part of my life. When I read my story during my book edits, I didn’t even really see my character in the book as me anymore. I think I have made peace with my past because of my book. However, therapy was just as crucial in my healing as the writing. I think the ability to work through the past in any way is very important.

Q: Will you tell us how you found the courage to speak up about your attack?

A: At the time, I had someone in my life who was very inspiring to me. That person made me believe I could do anything at any age, so I wrote the first draft of my book over winter break. I was 18.

No matter how scary it was to write and relive my experience, I knew it was ultimately worth it. I knew I was helping myself.

Q: What do you want other sexual assault survivors to know?

A: You’re not alone, and it’s not your fault. I would also suggest going to therapy when you are ready. I solved problems in therapy that I had held onto for years. The most important thing I learned was how critical it is to forgive. For me, it was especially important to stop blaming myself.

Q: What’s your advice for other women who may feel too scared or ashamed to get help?

A: Tell someone you trust. I think everyone responds to trauma differently, and each case is very different. Not everyone who files charges wins their case. I didn’t, and that was very difficult. You are the most important person in your life, so try to figure out what you need to do to take care of yourself, especially when you’re in such a fragile state.

Q: What advice do you have for women who have a friend who has been assaulted?

A: Compassion is the most important human emotion. If a friend has been sexually assaulted, try to be there for them. Learn more about coping and available resources so you can give them knowledgeable support. Hearing from a friend that this was not my fault helped me in ways I couldn’t see until much more time passed.

Q: What can people do to help put an end to sexual assault?

A: There is great power in discussing something that is so hard to talk about. Helping women learn to protect themselves is important, but what we need to do a lot more of is telling men not to rape. This is not a women’s issue. It is a human issue. I want people to know that.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share?

A: I’ve always thought that if I could have read about a story like mine when I was assaulted, I wouldn’t have felt so alone. That’s why I’m speaking out. I don’t want other victims of sexual assault to feel alone.

Read more at Office on Women’s Health – U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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The Daily Beast- ‘The Hunting Ground’ Sheds New Light On Campus Rape Epidemic



‘The Hunting Ground’ Sheds New Light On Campus Rape Epidemic

A new documentary follows two activists around the country as they talk to fellow survivors about the trauma of rape and the triumph of survival.
Rape has always been a taboo topic in our society, but lately that seems to be changing thanks to activists like Annie Clark and Andrea Pino.Clark and Pino are leading the crusade for Title IX—a federal legislation most famous for sports equality, but which prohibits all discrimination (including sexual harassment and violence) on the basis of sex in any education program or activity that receives federal funding—and the Clery Act, which grants protections for sexual assault victims on college campuses. They recently made their film debut as activists in the new documentary “The Hunting Ground,” by Oscar-nominated filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering.Pino graduated valedictorian of her high school and was the first of her family to leave her home state of Florida to go to college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Clark, a North Carolina native and high school athlete, wanted to stay in state for college and chose Chapel Hill as well. Having both survived rape while college students, they eventually created End Rape On Campus, a survivor advocacy organization dedicated to ending sexual violence.

The film notes that 16 to 20 percent of undergraduate women are sexually assaulted in college, and 88 percent of women raped on campus do not report.

The documentary follows the two women as they drive cross-country to meet with other sexual assault survivors on college campuses who wish to file complaints against their schools. Clark, who became a campus administrator at the University of Oregon after graduation, reflects in the film, “I basically had to make a choice if I wanted to continue to support survivors or have my actual administrative job at a university. I figured I could do more good this way, so I resigned.”

The film notes that 16 to 20 percent of undergraduate women are sexually assaulted in college, and 88 percent of women raped on campus do not report. Pino details her violent assault as a second year student. She says, “It all happened really quickly. I was actually a virgin, so that adds a bit to it. He just started pulling me towards the bathroom. He grabbed my head by the side of my ear and slammed it against the bathroom tile and it didn’t stop.”

Pino’s traumatic memory has yet to subside. “When you’re scared and you don’t know what’s happening to you, you just stay there and hope that you don’t die. And that’s when I was hoping, that I had more than just 20 years to live.”

Clark mentions receiving many death and rape threats for going public with her assault. A resolute Clark says, “Here is the experience of several hundred survivors. Unless something happens, it’s not going to change.”

Filmmaker Kirby Dick discussed the obstacles of making this film with The Daily Beast. “This is a problem at all of the thousands of colleges and universities in the United States. We wanted to make a film that didn’t just focus on three or four campuses and people would walk away saying that those were the rape campuses. We wanted people to walk away knowing that this is a prolific problem within higher education.”

“I was actually a virgin…He grabbed my head by the side of my ear and slammed it against the bathroom tile and it didn’t stop.”

In order for the filmmakers to accomplish that, they were in contact with hundreds of survivors and did extensive research for many months. Producer Amy Ziering added, “The complexities and the nuances of this issue were also a challenge, and the fact that power in these institutions is not hierarchically ordered is another problem.”

Revisiting UNC, Chapel Hill reignited the feelings of terror and shame Andrea Pino experienced after her assault. She later found out that multiple other women were raped that same weekend. “The worst part for me has been to relive the experiences of everyone else,” Pino recounts.

Through tears, survivors from Florida State, Notre Dame, USC, Yale, and Harvard describe their horrific sexual assaults. Yet in the face of these stories, Pino and Clark are unafraid. “It’s the only way I get up in the morning. I would have given anything to have someone who believed me, someone who supported me,” Pino says.

In the film, an ABC news reporter in Berkeley, California says, “These students went from sexual assault victims to survivors and now activists.” Words could not ring more true for these two heroic women.

The film hits theaters this Friday, February 27th.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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Into The Gloss- Neesha Arter, Writer

Neesha Arter, Writer



“I grew up in Albuquerque and went to college in California, where I studied creative writing and ended up writing a book. While I was in LA for school, I started writing for Angeleno Magazine, which is how I began working in journalism, too. Eventually I moved out to New York to get a book deal, which just happened two weeks ago! It’s called Controlled and it’s a memoir about sexual assault. I really couldn’t be happier that it’s getting published. It’s a really exciting time for me. [Ed note: Controlled (Heliotrope Books) will be available fall 2015.]

When I’m not working on the book, I write for New York Magazineand the New York Observer. I’ve been fortunate enough to interview some of my favorite people in entertainment for stories I’ve worked on—people like David Lynch, Drew Barrymore, Orlando Bloom, Barbara Walters…My conversation with Barbara was definitely one of the most memorable. It was also kind of controversial on a personal level because it was Woody Allen’s opening night of Bullets Over Broadway—not too long after his open letter went out in the New York Times about his relationship with Dylan—and Barbara Walters publicly supports him. I feel very strongly about this kind of thing and I do a lot of activism when it comes to sexual assault awareness. My editor was like, ‘You’re covering this!’ and I just said ‘OK!’ I didn’t think she was going to do interviews, but I just kind of jumped in front of her and said, ‘I’m Neesha Arter from New York Magazine! Can I talk to you for a second?’ and we got to talk, so that was great. I’ve watched The View since I was little and even if we disagree, I still admire her so much.

I also guest write for Mariska Hargitay’s Joyful Heart Foundation about various issues dealing with sexual assault. And I did the social media for this documentary called Brave Miss Worldwhich was written and directed by Cecilia Peck, Gregory Peck’s daughter. It’s about Linor Abargil, an Israeli who won Miss World in 1998 and was raped six weeks before she won the crown, and then later in life speaks out about it and travels around the world to help other victims of sexual assault. It’s really gratifying to be involved with such creative people making a difference. Everyone knows someone that has been affected by these issues. Sexual assault happens every day. I wrote an article for Teen Vogue about this and I had people writing to me from Australia and everywhere else saying, ‘I was raped and I haven’t told anybody except for you…’ and it’s just like, wow, that is a heavy thing. Nobody talks about it, which only makes it more important that the media shines a light on the cause. And if I can help somebody and say, ‘You’re not alone,’ then that’s all I want to do.

For my job and my activism, I go to a lot of black tie events to interview subjects and support causes close to me. But because I’m usually there to work, I don’t worry about if my hair or eye makeup is really ‘working.’ It’s not about being a celebrity, it’s about blending in and finding the story. I’ll do a darker eye—just pencil and mascara though, never shadow—and blow dry my hair. And then I’ll use what I use every day. I found MAC Powder Blush in Breezy because the lady at the store was like, ‘Oh, this one is probably good,’ and I’ve used it ever since [laughs]. I like powder formulas over creams because I find them easier to apply. My favorite mascara is Maybelline The Colossal Volum’ Express. My suitemate used it in college, and she always had pretty eyelashes, so I used hers before eventually buying my own. And I love lip gloss. I have so many! Paul & Joe Lip Color in Pink Ballerina is a good one, Stila Lip Glaze in Grapefruit is always a winner, and MAC Tinted Lipglass in Pink Lemonade is just fun to put on. Anything pink! It gives me that extra boost of confidence when I’m doing red carpet interviews or a one-on-one with someone I admire in the industry, so it’s definitely a product I can’t live without.

When it comes to skincare, I stick to the classics. I’ve been using Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash in Pink Grapefruit for as long as I can remember. I follow that up with their Oil-Free Moisturizer for combination skin. I use it during the day and at night. My mom gave me Clinique All About Eyes Serum because I have a huge issue with insomnia. Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair is also good for calming my eyes when I can’t sleep.

I actually use my favorite lotion, Soap and Glory Butter Yourself Body Cream, in the shower. It’s really good for when the air is dry in the winter. Then I shampoo my hair with Alterna Caviar Clinical Daily Detoxifying Shampoo and their Daily Root & Scalp Stimulator. They’re super fancy products that my friend gave me and I love the way they make my hair smell. I haven’t used Alterna Caviar Working Hair Spray since, like, prom, but I always keep it around just in case I need a little bit of extra volume.

And after a painful trip of eyebrow threading and a few failed pedicures, I swear by eyebrow waxing and painting my own nails. I just couldn’t stop laughing during those foot massages. Am I the only one who’s ticklish? So overall, I’m pretty low maintenance. I don’t have a ton of products, but the ones I do use, I’m very loyal to. I’ve gotten the most guidance from my mom, partially because there aren’t a ton of Indian women in the media—though I think Freida Pinto and I would be great friends.”

—as told to ITG

Photographed by Tom Newton.

Read more on Into The Gloss

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Teen Vogue

Teenage Sexual Assault: One Girl’s Eye-Opening Story

A rape victim in her own words.
Painting by Kim McCarty, courtesy of Morgan Lehman Gallery

On my fourteenth New Year’s Eve, the only desire I knew was the desperate longing that the boy I liked might touch my hand as he walked by. I was petite and pretty then, or at least I thought I was, with long, straight black hair and dark brown eyes set against my tanned Indian skin. On that New Year’s Eve, on one of those chilly Houston evenings, I secretly wished for smoldering looks. I could never have imagined that my dreams would soon be shattered, my mind poisoned, and my body violated.

That night I was sexually assaulted by two boys I trusted. Looking back, I remember shuddering, but most of all I remember the paralysis, the terror, the intrusion, and the pain. I have a vivid memory of myself in that cold room saying, “I need to go. I really need to go,” and how those words carried no value. My body felt so heavy, my muscles so weak. I used every bit of strength I had to pull myself away, but it wasn’t enough. Their hands overpowered me and I couldn’t break free. I closed my lips and bit them as hard as I could. Staring into the boys’ eyes I thought were so beautiful just a few moments before, I wanted to be somewhere far, far away. My blood was boiling, my skin sweating; all of this seemed like a fever-induced hallucination. Two salty tears began to stream down my face.

And then two hundred tears.

When I used to think about what my life might someday be like, I never once pictured myself as a victim. I desperately wanted to push this night away and pretend like it never happened. Days later, I had to face it when my parents decided to press charges. Luckily, my mom and dad never blamed me, but instead wanted to send the two boys to jail. I felt disgusting, ashamed, and dirty. After the assault, I constantly trembled and shook. I no longer felt young. My childhood was further from me than I ever imagined it would be at 14.

As this legal case became part of my daily life, I was constantly reminded of the events of that New Year’s. I began to shut down. That night took away my innocence, and I unraveled with the constant flashbacks. I needed control. The only way I found it was through food. Restricting my eating became my coping mechanism throughout the yearlong legal battle that never went to trial. Due to a lack of evidence, it turned into a classic case of he-said-she-said. I didn’t think I could muster the strength to face everyone in court. I just wanted to be like every other teenage girl again and go back to having crushes on boys and playing volleyball with my friends.

I became consumed by an obsession with calories, an obsession with making myself disappear. My friends never knew I had been to a rape clinic or that I had spoken with detectives. I was too ashamed to tell anyone, so I began to isolate myself. I spent the year in solitude with these disturbing memories. I lost my trust in everyone and lived in fear. For the rest of high school, I chose to push away the trauma, but I woke up years later still broken.

Avoiding reality almost destroyed me. I am now 22, and it took me years of therapy to finally accept that this assault was not my fault. Every choice is a step, but it’s up to each of us whether we make it a step forward or a step back. I had to face the darkness so it could set me free.

Neesha Arter recently completed her memoir Controlled and contributes to the New York Observer and New York Magazine.

Published in Teen Vogue

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