From Taylor Swift to Oprah: Celebrities Reveal Horrifying Experiences With Sexual Violence and How They’re Fighting Back
The article Amber Tamblyn wrote for The New York Times on her experiences with misogyny in and out of the workplace took the internet by storm. Various celebrities have been both victims of sexual assault as well as some of the conversation’s biggest activists.
Some celebrities share their painful stories publicly, and others continue to drive home the necessary point that they stand with and for victims of sexual assault.
Amber Tamblyn’s article was just one account of the actress’ experiences with sexual violence. This followed her Twitter response to James Woods’ view of an illicit gay relationship that drives the plot of Armie Hammer’s forthcoming film, Call Me by Your Name.
She penned an open letter reminding him of his unwanted sexual advances toward her years ago, then days later wrote the NYT article as a reaction to the responses she received. “It’s no wonder that the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that from 2006 to 2010, 65% of sexual assaults went unreported,” she writes, “What’s the point, if you won’t be believed?”
Next: This music artist wrote a chart-topping single to find relief.
Kesha was involved in a highly publicized lawsuit against her former producer Dr. Luke after suing him in order to void all of their contracts. The suit said that Dr. Luke “sexually, physically, verbally, and emotionally abused [Kesha] to the point where [she] nearly lost her life.” After the New York Supreme Court denied Kesha’s injunction, Kesha was unable to record music independent of Dr. Luke’s imprint.
Kesha released her first single in four years in August 2017. In a powerful article for Lenny Letter, Kesha speaks out about her battles with depression and anxiety and how writing and recording her hit single “Praying” helped her find relief. “I dragged myself out of bed and took my emotions to the studio and made art out of them.”
Next: This star gave a devastating speech about sexual violence.
The How to Get Away with Murder star gave a powerful speech at the 2015 Rape Foundation fundraiser which detailed the prevalence of sexual violence in her community growing up. “Listen, when I was young, there were so many men in the neighborhood who gave you money if they could touch you,” she said, “Going over to a friend’s house for a birthday party at the age of seven, there was always someone there who touched you.”
Davis became an activist for the foundation in 2010. She has publicly addressed her sister’s struggles in adulthood as a result of being raped when she was just 8 years old.
Next: This star addressed the U.N. with her concerns.
Emma Watson is one of the millennial generation’s loudest vocal advocates for gender equality. She launched the HeforShe campaign in 2014 and speaks on behalf of the team about highly debated topics like sexual assault and the gender wage gap.
In 2016, Watson addressed the U.N. about the frightening presence of sexual assault on university campuses. Watson herself is a Brown University alum and stated that while she praised Brown on an environment that developed her independent, politically forward thinking, not all college-goers had the same experience.
Next: This talk show host talks to survivors of sexual assault.
“I was raped when I was 9 by a cousin, and never told anybody until I was in my late 20s. Not only was I raped by a cousin, I was raped by a cousin, and then later sexually molested by a friend of the family, and then by an uncle,” Oprah shared in a 1991 Academy of Achievement interview.
Oprah has aired multiple conversations with survivors of diverse sexual assault experiences. She found that both children and adults were able to come forward and share their painful stories with her. “That is exactly the reason why I wanted to do these shows,” Oprah says. “To get people to step out of the shame, to come forward, to tell somebody.”
Next: This actress uses her star power to raise awareness on live television.
Amy Schumer spoke with Howard Stern on The Howard Stern Show about her book, The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo. They discussed her experience with date rape at the hands of a former boyfriend and the trust issues she developed as a result.
“I think it’s important to talk about … it’s made me feel less alone when other women have come forward about being sexually assaulted,” Schumer told Stern. She then counteracts the idea of the “perfect rape” and the controversial comments she received after disclosing that her first boyfriend sexually assaulted her while she was asleep.
“People hear me say that and they go … ‘I bet she knew’ — like, right away, you start doubting. We’re so critical and it makes victims really not wanna speak up.”
Next: This pop icon made a music video a PSA.
Lady Gaga revealed during a 2014 Howard Stern interview that she was raped by a man “20 years older than her,” Time reported. The Grammy-winning singer released a music video for her 2016 single “Til it Happens to You” that doubled as a public service announcement about campus rape.
The video, written by Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke, showed four depictions of sexual assault and the aftermath the victims experienced. “I hope that this PSA, with its raw and truthful portrayals, will send a clear message that we need to support these courageous survivors and end this epidemic plaguing our college campuses,” Hardwicke said in a statement.
Next: This actress spoke out at the Golden Globe Awards.
“I don’t know how much time I have, but I have something to say,” Mo’Nique said in her acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture at the 2010 Golden Globe Awards for her role in Precious.
The 2009 drama tells the story of Claireece “Precious” Jones’ (Gabourey Sidibe) childhood where she is verbally, physically, and sexually assaulted at the hands of her mother, Mary, played by Mo’Nique. Mo’Nique thanks her director, crew, and fellow cast members before telling survivors everywhere, “I celebrate this award with everyone who’s ever been touched … It’s now time to tell, and it’s OK.”
Next: In a symbolic move, this icon sued her assaulter for a single dollar.
Swift made a reference to her recent lawsuit in the video for her sixth studio album’s first single, “Look What You Made Me Do.” Sitting in a bathtub amidst $10 million of diamonds, Swift lays with a single dollar.
This represents the $1 she sued former radio host David Mueller for in her sexual assault case against him. The radio host reportedly reached up under Swift’s skirt after she agreed to take a photograph with him. Swift’s lawyer Douglas Baldridge referenced the dollar in court, saying that Swift hoped her suit could be an example for others in similar situations “by returning a verdict on Ms. Swift’s counterclaim for a single dollar — a single symbolic dollar, the value of which is immeasurable to all women in this situation.”
Next: This writer and star used her TV show to reach viewers everywhere.
Lena Dunham, the writer and star of the hit HBO show Girls and co-creator of the online newsletter and website Lenny Letter, has notably lent her active voice to victims of sexual assault. In her book Not That Kind of Girl, Dunham reveals she was raped by a fellow college student when she was 19 years old.
Dunham has used her show as a platform to analyze sexual assault. In the third episode of the sixth season, the show’s narrative explores how an assailant can still be relatable and lovable. Dunham and the cast of Girls also posted a public service announcement following the Stanford University sexual assault case that encouraged viewers to support survivors, “not because she is someone’s daughter, or someone’s girlfriend, or someone’s sister — but because she is someone.”
Next: This celebrity takes down talk show hosts on the meaning of sexual consent.
On It’s Not You, It’s Men, a talk show on the Oprah Winfrey Network, Amber Rose spoke with hosts Tyrese Gibson and Rev Run about sexual consent. “If I’m laying down with a man … and his condom is on, and I say you know what, no I don’t wanna do this, I change my mind,” Rose says, “that means no … it doesn’t matter how far I take it or what I have on.”
Rev Run attempted to retaliate, saying he’d heard the phrase, “dress how you want to be addressed,” in reference to women inviting men’s advances. Rose dismisses this too, joining the ranks of women who want to squash the “girls invite assault by the way they dress” debate once and for all. Newsroom anchor Carol Costello agrees. “Yet this silly myth persists;” she writes in an opinion piece for CNN, “That somehow, provocative clothing invites predatory behavior.”
Next: This comedian makes it political.
“I wish we could have an honest, and respectful dialogue about these complicated issues,” Tina Fey began her speech at the Center for Reproductive Rights gala in 2012. Fey went on to rightfully blast the “grey-faced, $2 haircut” men who try to explain to her and other women “what rape is.” This came as a response to then-congressman Todd Akin’s claim that suggested victims of “legitimate rape” are rarely at risk for pregnancy.
Next: This star had an intimate connection to her HBO character.
Evan Rachel Woods
The Westworld star revealed to Rolling Stone that she had suffered from “physical, psychological [and] sexual” abuse in the past. “Your demons never fully leave,” she said, “But when you’re using them to create something, it almost gives them a purpose. Westworld? I left so much in that first season and never looked back.”
Woods took to Twitter after the article was published to share further details of her rape. In her open letter, she states the all-too-common reasons she didn’t report her assailants. “The first time I was unsure that if it was done by a partner it was still in fact rape, until too late,” she wrote. “Also who would believe me. And the second time, I thought it was my fault and that I should have fought back more, but I was scared.”
Next: Males who have advocated in support of survivors.
There are numerous supportive male advocates for survivors to look to
Plenty of male celebrities are fierce advocates for sexual assault survivors and have made their support public. Friends star David Schwimmer told The View in April about a campaign, #ThatsHarrassment, featuring a series of short films he began in the U.S. following a friend’s similar campaign in Israel. “It feels like women and their advocates are fighting for basic human rights,” he told the women of The View.
Channing Tatum talked with Cosmopolitan’s editor-in-chief Joanna Coles about his reaction to the Stanford University sexual assault case during a Facebook live stream. “Rape culture is a very real thing,” he told Coles.
The male cast of Law & Order: SVU joined forces to create this PSA about changing the culture around the old adage “boys will be boys” and sexual assault.
Next: Resources for victims of sexual assault.
While the brave celebrities listed were able to publicly discuss their experiences, it’s by no means easy for any survivor to come to terms with sexual violence.
RAINN, the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network, is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. RAINN offers resources for those seeking help following sexual assault as well as information on teaching the meaning of true consent. The organization partners with over 1,000 local sexual assault service providers across the country and operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE).
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