Murphy says sharing story of assault at U.Va. was not comfortable or easy

'Be true to yourself, and feel no shame about speaking up because I think that’s what we all need to do.'


Tammy Murphy iterated that the University was not at fault for what happened to her.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

When New Jersey First Lady Tammy Murphy attended the Women’s March in Morristown, N.J. last Saturday, she said she expected a few thousand people to be present. Instead, the crowd was reportedly as large as 15,000 people when the U.Va. Board of Visitors member shared that she was sexually assaulted during her second year at the University. 

Murphy graduated from the University in 1987 with a double-major in English and Communications. She was appointed to the University’s Board of Visitors July 2015 by former Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D). Most recently, she became the first lady of New Jersey when her husband, Phil Murphy (D), won the gubernatorial election last November.

“The stories of the ‘Me Too’ movement have humbled the powerful and empowered the forgotten,” Murphy said in Saturday’s speech. “I will add my voice to this growing chorus. Three decades ago, as a college sophomore, I was sexually assaulted.”

Despite her reference to the “Me Too” movement — a popular campaign that encourages survivors of sexual assault to share their stories as a reminder they are not alone  — Murphy told The Cavalier Daily in an interview Wednesday she wasn’t sure how big of a role it played in her decision to speak up. However, Murphy’s story has garnered national attention and she joins a long list of famous names who have shared their experiences with sexual assault and sexual harassment. 

“Honestly, I had a friend who knew that story, or knew parts of it, and had said to me some time ago that it would be great if I would consider sharing that because she thought that others might benefit,” Murphy said. “I think it just seemed like it would be the appropriate time with the Women’s March.”

Murphy said in her speech that the assault occurred when she was walking alone along a shadowed path. A man pulled her into the bushes and attempted to remove her clothes as Murphy screamed for help. She bit her attacker and ran to a fraternity house after he attempted to put a crab apple in her mouth to silence her. 

The alleged attacker was not affiliated with the University at the time and the incident was reported to local law enforcement, according to a statement from the University. Murphy said her attacker did not ultimately face justice for assaulting her, although he later went to jail for a different crime. 

Murphy iterated that the University was not at fault for what happened to her.

“… I think you should know that I never ever thought that U.Va. had anything to do with this,” Murphy said. “It’s not a U.Va.-specific thing. I think it’s literally our entire society, and I think that the support didn’t exist back then.”

When Murphy was assaulted over three decades ago, she said no one was talking about the subject. Now, people are talking, and Murphy is willing to be a part of that conversation. 

“One of my primary reasons for sharing that story is that I want to encourage people to speak up,” Murphy said. “I want to make sure others know that it’s okay to do that. While Saturday was neither easy nor comfortable for me to speak up, I kind of justified it that if one person was helped then it makes the whole thing worthwhile.”

Murphy said in her leadership roles she’s willing to mentor and help others who have experienced sexual assault. She encourages survivors to reach out for support — whether that’s their friends, family, college or university. 

“… I think that society is far more open-minded and willing to understand and help now than I think, historically, people maybe were comfortable doing,” Murphy said. “So I would say don’t be afraid.”

Since her speech on Saturday, Murphy said she has been approached by a number of people who told her that either themselves, their friends or their family members have been sexually assaulted. According to Murphy, her story has taken on a life of its own. She said she thinks there’s reason for that. 

“You have to be careful,” Murphy said, “but be true to yourself, and feel no shame about speaking up because I think that’s what we all need to do.” 

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