Tanya Selvaratnam '88
February 11, 2022

Truth Be Told

Alumna pens memoir and courageously shares story of intimate partner violence
by Nancy Hitchcock

What would have happened if Tanya Selvaratnam ’88 had stayed silent?

If Selvaratnam hadn’t revealed to The New Yorker the intimate abuse she suffered from then New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the magazine wouldn’t have researched and found three more women with similar allegations and written an article in 2018 that led to the attorney general’s resignation three hours after the article was published.

In her memoir Assume Nothing: A Story of Intimate Violence, Selvaratnam courageously describes how a seemingly healthy relationship quickly turned abusive.

An award-winning filmmaker and writer, Selvaratnam came to America from Sri Lanka as a toddler. She met Schneiderman at the Democratic National Convention in 2016. They had much in common: both graduated from Harvard, spoke Chinese, and were interested in social activism. But soon, Schneiderman’s behavior turned controlling and manipulative. He drank too much. He spat on and slapped her. He even threatened to kill her if she left him.

When Selvaratnam finally extracted herself from the relationship after one year, she went public so other women wouldn’t suffer from Schneiderman’s violence—and went on to write her story to support victims of abuse everywhere.

“I hoped the book would help people spot, stop, and prevent intimate partner violence."

“I hope the book will help people heal," Selvaratnam explains. ”I want people to know that they’re not alone. By sharing our stories, we do our part to chip away at the conditioning that perpetuates the cycle of violence.”

Publicly, Schneiderman and Governor Andrew Cuomo both actively advocated for women’s rights, but privately both behaved egregiously toward women. Had Schneiderman not been exposed and subsequently resigned, he would have been the attorney general charged with investigating Cuomo for allegations of sexually harassing at least 11 women.

Today, New York state has two women in top political positions: Letitia James is the first female and first Black attorney general, and Kathy Hochul is the state’s first female governor.

“Both these outcomes were unintended and unexpected,” says Selvaratnam. “I don’t credit myself with these outcomes, but they are a testament to the power of storytelling. And if change can’t happen top-down, it can happen ground-up, swelling with story upon story.”

Categories: Alumni, Magazine, Magazine Online

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