Assume Nothing: A Story of Intimate Violence (Hardcover)
Award-winning filmmaker Tanya Selvaratnam bravely recounts the intimate abuse she suffered from former New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, using her story as a prism to examine the domestic violence crisis plaguing America.
When Tanya Selvaratnam met then New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman at the Democratic National Convention in July 2016, they seemed like the perfect match. Both were Harvard alumni; both studied Chinese; both were interested in spirituality and meditation, both were well-connected rising stars in their professions—Selvaratnam in entertainment and the art world; Schneiderman in law and politics.
Behind closed doors, however, Tanya’s life was anything but ideal. Schneiderman became controlling, mean, and manipulative. He drank heavily and used sedatives. Sex turned violent, and he called Tanya—who was born in Sri Lanka and grew up in Southern California—his “brown slave.” He isolated and manipulated her, even threatening to kill her if she tried to leave.
Twenty-five percent of women in America are victims of domestic abuse. Tanya never thought she would be a part of this statistic. Growing up, she witnessed her father physically and emotionally abuse her mother. Tanya knew the patterns and signs of domestic violence, and did not see herself as remotely vulnerable. Yet what seemed impossible was suddenly a terrifying reality: she was trapped in a violent relationship with one of the most powerful men in New York.
Sensitive and nuanced, written with the gripping power of a dark psychological thriller, Assume Nothing details how Tanya’s relationship devolved into abuse, how she found the strength to leave—risking her career, reputation, and life—and how she reclaimed her freedom and her voice. In sharing her story, Tanya analyzes the insidious way women from all walks of life learn to accept abuse, and redefines what it means to be a victim of intimate violence.
About the Author
Tanya Selvaratnam is the author of The Big Lie: Motherhood, Feminism, and the Reality of the Biological Clock. Her essays have been published in the New York Times, Vogue, The Art Newspaper, SheKnows, Glamour, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, and on CNN, and she has been a fellow at Yaddo and Blue Mountain Center. She is an Emmy-nominated and Webby-winning filmmaker, and she has been a producer for Aubin Pictures, For Freedoms, Glamour Women of the Year, the Meteor, Planned Parenthood, and the Vision & Justice Project.
Part survivor’s tale and part exposé of intimate violence, the book offers a candid, often frightening exploration of the diabolically schizophrenic ways that the patriarchy conspires to disempower women.
— Kirkus Reviews
Assume Nothing is raw, gut-wrenching, and honest in its exposure of how—and why—women find themselves trapped in the stories that comprised their childhoods, with particular attention to the shame that comes from believing that they should have known better.
— Library Journal (starred review)
Crystal prose, precise and calm, grants Selvaratnam’s narrative of manipulative abuse, a profound ethical clarity. A grave book, a powerful and essential book.
— Kiran Desai, Man Booker Prize-winning author of The Inheritance of Loss
This courageous and terrifying book charts the author’s descent into an abusive relationship and also her emergence from it in taut, seductive prose. Selvaratnam explains how—even as an educated, sophisticated, liberal feminist—she was enthralled by her lover’s fame and tolerated escalating personal violence. Her narrative is vivid and bracingly frank, a tour-de-force of self-revelation and, ultimately, of redemption.
— Andrew Solomon, National Book Award-winning author of Far from the Tree and The Noonday Demon
In Assume Nothing, Selvaratnam very bravely and compellingly uses her personal experience to shine a light on the global crisis of violence against women. An important book for the women’s rights movement, Assume Nothing demonstrates that violence against women exists across race, class, economic status and education levels, and may be perpetrated by those we think of as allies! It dispels the myth that there are certain types of victims and perpetrators. It will help a lot of people, and particularly those who hesitate to identify as a victim/survivor for fear of losing their grounding both publicly and privately.
— Yasmeen Hassan, Global Executive Director, Equality Now
Every woman who tells her story of experiencing sexual violence is brave. But it takes a particularly strong breed of courage to tell the story of how an outspoken advocate for women’s issues becomes embroiled in an abusive relationship, and that is Tanya Selvaratnam’s story. Assume Nothing is a vivid accounting of her experience, and it demolishes dozens of old cliches in one fell swoop: the stereotype of the typical victim, for one, and the image of the typical abuser, for another. Read it. It has the power to change how we all think—and what we put up with
— Cindi Leive, journalist; senior fellow, USC Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism
Assume Nothing is a searing account of Tanya Selvaratnam’s relationship with one of the most powerful men in New York. In lucid prose, she recounts the confusion of signals—the loving embrace turned choke hold—and her struggle to reclaim her voice and power. This book is a necessary and important addition to the conversation around #MeToo—and a gift to women everywhere.
— Danzy Senna, author of CAUCASIA and NEW PEOPLE
Assume Nothing is a harrowing story of the illusions we live with about power and authority and the splits between our public and private selves. This book illustrates how vulnerable we all are; even those who outwardly seem so strong have ancient fractures, points of entry where we are susceptible to the debilitating darkness of others.
— A.M. Homes, author of The Mistress’s Daughter and May We Be Forgiven