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Some spoke out. Some stayed silent. The Hollywood Reporter hears from five accusers on the feelings of closure, turbulence and regret that resulted from their decision.
By THR staff
By Drew Dixon, a music producer and writer, and one of several women to accuse mogul Russell Simmons of rape in Dec. 2017. Simmons has denied the allegations.
I had no idea what I was getting into when I walked into The New York Times five years ago to talk about the most terrifying night of my life. I’d done my best to ignore the #MeToo stories dominating the news for the past several weeks. I kept hoping that the cascade of disturbing revelations wouldn’t implicate Russell Simmons.
I was proud of the other survivors who were coming forward, but I didn’t want to get involved in the #MeToo movement. I didn’t want to think anymore about the long-buried pain of the rape at all, but in November 2017, when Simmons was accused of sexual assault along with his close friend, movie director Brett Ratner, Simmons responded by calling the women liars. I felt that by not bearing witness to the crime he’d committed against me, I would become an accomplice to his cover-up. I couldn’t live with that, so after 22 years of hiding from the enmity of Simmons and his well-connected entourage, I came forward.
When I made the decision to say “#MeToo,” I avoided contemplating the aftermath. Thinking about the possible fallout of my choice was debilitating, so I focused on relaying the facts of what happened in my past instead of fixating on my terror about the implications for my future. Looking back now at how terrified I was, I realize I wasn’t scared enough. Telling the world that I was raped by the so-called Impresario of Hip-Hop was kind of like detonating an atomic bomb in the middle of my life. My whole world came crashing down, and five years later I’m still digging out of the wreckage.
I underestimated the extent to which I would be forced to process my unmetabolized pain, but when a waitress burst into tears in a restaurant or when a crying mom approached me at my son’s Little League game, I found that it was no longer possible for me to decide when and where to engage with this memory. Never and nowhere turned into always and without warning. I lost control of my trauma by telling the world my story — which was unexpected and overwhelming.
One of the things I feared the most as a proud Black woman is that I would be accused of selling out my race by revealing the predation of an iconic Black man. I remembered the way the Black community recoiled from Anita Hill 30 years ago and was mindful of the callous indifference to the suffering of R. Kelly’s victims. Even with all that apprehension, I never imagined that the telling of my story would intersect with the devastating and racist murder of George Floyd that took place just two days before the release of a documentary in which I told the story of my rape along with several brave Simmons survivors. I never expected that I would find myself in the thick of a heartbreaking rift at the intersection of race loyalty and gender violence. The intensity and pain of that schism eclipsed my greatest fears.
After so many years of turbulence, I’m eager to move beyond my identity as a survivor and refocus on the art and entertainment that I’m capable of creating. Although I will never fully recover personally, professionally or financially from the trauma of the rape, the negative impact to my career or the cost of coming forward, I am optimistic about my future. Five years ago, when I opened a box with my pain buried inside, I unearthed shattered and forgotten parts of my identity. I rediscovered my creativity, my fearlessness and my swagger in the same place where I’d hidden my sorrow. So in spite of the many losses, by telling my story I also unlocked my own greatest gifts. This hasn’t been an easy road, but in the process of saying #MeToo, I also set myself free, and freedom is an immeasurable win.
By Anonymous, a woman who chose not to speak publicly about her sexual assault.
In early 2017, a man drugged and sexually assaulted me. I didn’t report it. He had power in the film business — and, specifically, power over me. The sexual assault took place in his home, a place I never agreed to go. Yet suddenly I’d found myself there and was told I could not leave. After I managed to escape hours later, I immediately went to a walk-in clinic to make sure I’d survive the drugging.
I waited two years to go to the police. I never pressed charges. And being victim blamed by the detective didn’t help. There was a lot of fear.
The man’s only response to what happened was to text me, saying he’d spoken about his finances that night, things he shouldn’t have shared, and wanted to pay me $10,000 in exchange for an NDA. He never sent it. He never acknowledged or apologized for the things he did that have haunted me since.
In the years since, I’ve told only a few people about what happened, including my parents, my therapist and my current partner — even then, only the bullet points. All of them urged me not to come forward. They were worried, in part, that it would hurt my career, that it would forever tar me as a troublemaker — that I’d be “google-able” as a problem.
Once the #MeToo movement began, a journalist contacted me about my assaulter. People were accusing him of sexual harassment. Without agreeing to use my name or my own story — even though it was on the tip of my tongue — I confirmed the accuracy of those claims I knew to be true about his behavior in and around the workplace. I felt really proud. It’s such a weird feeling to be proud of a community that nobody wants to be a member of. I was in awe of those who came forward. But when the moment came for me to speak, I didn’t feel ready for it. I was overwhelmed and paralyzed.
I remember when the article was published, reading it on my phone and letting out a scream of joy. There was a sense of relief in holding him accountable. He ended up losing his job at his company. Mission accomplished. But it turns out that wasn’t enough for me.
These past years, I hated that he got up in the morning, brushed his teeth, went about his day and — I’m certain — didn’t think about me. Meanwhile, I had to think about him often. I had to go to hours of therapy for the trauma he caused me. Maybe I should have taken that 10 grand, which would have paid for at least a portion of my recovery.
I fully believe that there are other women who have been assaulted by him, and maybe they don’t know they’re not alone, or they fear they won’t be believed because I haven’t yet spoken out publicly. I feel a sense of responsibility that I’ve let down the other people I’m convinced he’s hurt — or may still hurt. I criticize myself a lot for not upholding my community of women. It’s this feeling of: I let down the safety net that we’re all trying to weave together. Others have been brave enough to speak up, and by not doing that, I may be potentially putting other people at risk.
The thing is, if someone else came forward, I would find it difficult not to then do it myself, even now, after everything. I’d put my name out there alongside their own to back them up. I’d want to be supportive any way I could. It’s just incredibly hard to go first.
Today, my assaulter has been run out of the business, and not even for the worst of what he did. Therefore, even if I were ready to come forward with my name, he’s not “newsworthy” anymore. So now my own story isn’t deemed newsworthy anymore either.
I’m carrying a weight. It would’ve been painful to go public; it’s painful not to have gone public. — AS TOLD TO GARY BAUM
By Nomi Abadi, founder of the Female Composer Safety League
Composing is not a field where I would recommend any woman go public with a story of sexual abuse, and I chose not to go public with mine.
First things first, we need to change the institutions — studios, corporations, managers, agents. There needs to be a zero-tolerance platform for sexual abuse. There needs to be a path for survivors to work. My industry isn’t ready to hear anyone’s personal story and be able to offer a path to get hired. We are still an industry that shames women. One voice coming out and outing one person — what good would it even do, other than bring me more shame?
Every week I hear 30 more stories. It was more important for me to go help other people. If I see that my community is there to support us, then they deserve to hear our stories. Before that, I would not push anybody to come forward unless they felt it would personally help them.
I feel a lot better now that I have support — a lawyer, the Female Composer Safety League, friends, a sisterhood, allyship, job opportunities. My mental health has taken an immense turn for the better. Tackling this together and finding each other — it’s the only reason I’m still in the industry. — AS TOLD TO REBECCA KEEGAN
By Zoe, the pseudonym used by an accuser who approached THR in 2021 with a 2004 allegation of rape by actor Chris Noth. Noth denied the accusation and said the encounter was consensual.
I’m doing really well. There really was something about telling my story that settled my insides. I had a calmness and a closure that I never thought I’d have. I’ve had a lot less PTSD and flashbacks. Most women never get that closure, that validation. I don’t have a friend who doesn’t have a story, and none of them ever got closure or saw those people face any kind of accountability.
For me, it was a unique experience because he was a public figure. It was harder and easier. Harder because I had to see his face over the years when I wasn’t prepared. But because he was a public figure, I got to see a reckoning and see that I wasn’t the only one.
One of my best friends from childhood — she doesn’t live in Los Angeles so she wasn’t going through it with me — wrote me two days after the article ran and said, “Do you think Big did it or not?” She didn’t put it together. I wrote back, “Did you read the article?” And she said no. I said, “Go back and read it.” And she wrote back, “Is this you?” She said, “I can’t believe you went through that.”
I read all the online comments I was told not to read, including women who said the accusers want money and attention. Where do they think this money is coming from? Or like, “Why now?” Yes, like people would have believed me when I was 22. Coming forward is something you can do when you’re older and stronger and more confident in your place in the world.
The one part that felt unsettled about it was that. There’s no understanding in the public of how hard it is to get a story out, the hoops you need to go through. And if my identity somehow had been revealed inadvertently, I would have jeopardized everything I’ve built just for the chance to protect other people. My goal going into it was to warn other people and make sure he didn’t keep playing roles that made women who saw him on television vulnerable.
If I wasn’t in the industry, I would have been willing to put my name out there and tolerate the nonsense and have my name tied to this. But given my job and livelihood — I knew I couldn’t be in meetings and have that be the only thing that people were focused on. — AS TOLD TO KIM MASTERS
By Kailey Kaminsky, a former makeup artist who accused TLC host Carter Oosterhouse of coercing her into sexual acts. Oosterhouse maintains the encounter was consensual.
I remember when I heard Ashley Judd speaking out about Harvey Weinstein, hearing about it on NPR, and just thinking, “This is really happening, and it’s time.” Speaking out publicly has changed my worldview. It has jaded me. I don’t trust a lot of men in general. I feel bad about that, but I can’t help it. It’s definitely changed my politics. I’m way more outspoken. I participate in a lot of activism. It’s something I would’ve done from an armchair standpoint or donated money. But especially when the Brett Kavanaugh situation occurred, I found myself in D.C. protesting his appointment. I was marching. I found myself next to Amy Schumer. There were a lot of people there. I was alone; my partner was not with me. My partner was extremely disappointed in my decision to speak out. But from a personal standpoint, it was one of the best choices I ever made, in that I was able to put it behind me. — AS TOLD TO G.B.
This story first appeared in the Sept. 28 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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