In Consent: A Memoir of Unwanted Attention (Little, Brown, Aug.), Freitas recounts being stalked by her graduate school mentor, who was also a priest, in the 1990s and the consequences it has had on her life.
What prompted you to tell this story now, two decades after the events it describes?
It was not #MeToo, because I happened to start writing before that. I was writing Consent on Campus: A Manifesto, and I realized I’m only able to make this argument I’m making about consent—how we talk about, or do not talk about, consent on campus—because of what I lived years ago. It felt like a revelation.
In the book, you hold yourself accountable for what happened, even though readers would be likely to say that your professor’s persecution was not your fault. What made you want to emphasize your complicity?
If a student came to me with the story I tell in the memoir, I would say, “You did nothing wrong,” and I would feel so sure about that. But this started out as a consensual relationship. I participated in the beginning—I went to his office hours all the time—and it’s really hard to figure out when and how that participation changes and stops. That’s the complicated conversation that we don’t often have.
What do you hope readers will take away from the book?
The story that I told is unique, and it’s completely ordinary in the sense that’s there are a lot of women who have to live through that horrible ambiguity and mess and feel uncertain about it forever—and yet, at the same time, feel like they were utterly and totally victimized. I wanted to give voice to that strange situation, to offer up that story and look at it from every different angle so that people can talk about it—the murkiness of it, the complexity of it, the uncertainty. It was utterly traumatizing—it changed my life. It still changes my life, as much as I wish it didn’t. I hope, too, that it’s something people find worthy of literature. In many ways, it’s a book about loss. It’s a book about who I became because of this experience, and grieving the loss of the person I thought I would be, that I’m not.
What did you leave out of the book?
I made a very particular choice in the book to leave out the person’s name. I did that because this is not his story. There are people who feel curious about who the person is, and they want to look him up, and that would feel violating to me. I feel like the second his name is spoken, he would take the story away from me again. And I don’t want him to have it. It’s my story.