Correction appended, March 8
In advance of the release of her new memoir, Padma Lakshmi spoke with PEOPLE about being sexually abused as a child.
“Something happened to me that happens to a lot of girls everywhere,” the Top Chef host told PEOPLE and Entertainment Weekly editorial director Jess Cagle in an exclusive interview about Love, Loss And What We Ate.
In the book, Lakshmi shares that, when she was 7 years old and living in Queens, New York, she would sometimes share a bed with a family member.
“One night,” she writes in the book, “I woke up to his hand in my underpants. He took my hand and placed it inside his briefs. I don’t know how many times it happened before, since I suspect I slept through some incidents.”
Lakshmi goes on to explain that she came forward to her mother about what happened—and that the incident led to Lakshmi being sent to India and, eventually, her mother undergoing a divorce.
“If women like me don’t talk about it, who’s going to?” Lakshmi tells PEOPLE. “You know, I think about all those girls I pass on the street who are in elementary school. I think about my daughter’s classmates or my daughter. And it happens. It happens a lot. It happens more than we think.”
Lakshmi’s memoir, Love, Loss And What We Ate, will be excerpted in this week’s issue of PEOPLE magazine, on newsstands Friday. The book is also on sale today.
Correction: The original version of this article misidentified Lakshmi’s relationship to her abuser. He was a relative.