Reese Witherspoon opens up about being assaulted at 16 by a director

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Reese Witherspoon was among the attendees at the Elle Women in Hollywood event last night. I’m going to get the superficial stuff out of the way first and to comment on her dress, a black Calvin Klein a-line with matelassé/quilted fabric. It’s a cute dress without the tied-on bell sleeves, which seem like an afterthought. Reese’s look was lovely overall.

Reese was there with her daughter, 18 year-old Ava. Reese spoke to the crowd about the topic that’s been on our minds ever since the news came out about the breadth of Harvey Weinstein’s assaults on women and massive abuse of power. Women are sharing and facing their own stories of harassment, assault and abuse and it’s been both tough to face and freeing in a way. Reese opened up about some of the abuse she suffered as a teen at 16 working in films. She also mentioned that she’s gone through so much more than just that, but she didn’t get into details. Her speech was powerful and I would like to see the video if it’s ever made available. People has the details.

“This has been a really hard week for women in Hollywood, for women all over the world, and a lot of situations and a lot of industries are forced to remember and relive a lot of ugly truths,” the Oscar winner said at the event held at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. “I have my own experiences that have come back to me very vividly and I find it really hard to sleep, hard to think, hard to communicate a lot of the feelings that I’ve been having about anxiety, honest, the guilt for not speaking up earlier.”

“[I feel] true disgust at the director who assaulted me when I was 16-years-old and anger at the agents and the producers who made me feel that silence was a condition of my employment,” she added.

“And I wish that I could tell you that was an isolated incident in my career, but sadly it wasn’t. I’ve had multiple experiences of harassment and sexual assault and I don’t speak about them very often.”

“But after hearing all the stories these past few days and hearing these brave women speak up tonight about things that we’re kind of told to sweep under the rug and not to talk about, it’s made me want to speak up and speak up loudly because I actually felt less alone this week than I have ever felt in my entire career.”

Adding, “I have just spoken to so many actresses and writers, particularly women, who have had similar experiences and many of them have bravely gone public with their stories. That truth is very encouraging to me and everyone out there in the world because you can only heal by telling the truth.”

“I feel really, really encouraged that there will be a new normal. For the young women in this room, life is going to be different because we’re with you, we have your back and it makes me feel better. It makes me so sad to talk about these issues, but I would be remiss not to,” Witherspoon concluded.

[From People]

I can relate to not being able to sleep, to feeling anxiety and uncertainty and to remembering some really sad and terrifying experiences I went through as a teen, young adult, and as a career woman. It’s painful to realize what you dealt with and to imagine that other young people may be going through that too. I don’t even want to get into specifics because I don’t want to talk about it. I think that we need to both applaud and champion women who are telling their stories and to understand why so many of us aren’t ready. We already have so much guilt and shame around things that were never our fault. Also, Reese didn’t name her accuser, but IMDB has some possibilities and maybe more women will come forward with stories about that person. As Kaiser wrote, it takes dozens of women to make our voices heard about a predator. Hopefully, as Reese mentioned, things are changing.

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Photos credit: WENN

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64 Responses to “Reese Witherspoon opens up about being assaulted at 16 by a director”

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  1. Nicole says:

    *lays down*
    I’m done with the news today. That’s all I got

  2. ArchieGoodwin says:

    I read, on twitter, someone said that the stories people share are only those they are able to bear. It’s so true. Some aren’t able to share, think people won’t listen, won’t care, call you a liar, or worse.
    It’s ok. However anyone needs to deal with it, it’s ok to take your time and pace. We all did.

    • detritus says:

      ‘It’s ok to take your own time and pace.’This is exactly it.
      You do not owe anyone your story. You tell it if and when you feel okay to do so.

    • Sabrine says:

      I doubt it’s getting any safer or better for women with regard to sexual assault or harassment, worse if anything. I was sexually harassed at work by a middle aged, married man who sat at a desk near me. I was 19 and it was my first job which I needed to take care of myself. The longer I worked there the more vulgar and crude he became. There have been other incidents. Men (and no, not all) are one of the worst dangers many women will ever have to face. Dating itself when you think of it is not one of the safest things a lone female can do.

      • Who ARE These People? says:

        It’s very hard to raise women – we want our daughters to be able to trust men and be open to love, but at the same time they are surrounded by stories of rape and other forms of assault, of harassment and devaluation. How can their emotions possibly hold all of this together without exploding? Where is their fine line to walk? How can they (when heterosexual) handle wanting male companionship and fearing men as the enemy? And given the prevalence of assault and harassment, how can we possibly say “it’s only a few bad apples” or “most men are good and don’t do that?”

        I don’t have answers, only questions.

        As for dating, yeah, this is why we meet them in daylight in public places and try to keep alcohol out of it. This is why we stay in after dark and go to the bathroom with a girlfriend. We have less fun and try to boost the odds of staying safe, knowing that the next assault can come out of the blue from a “safe” guy in a “safe” place.

    • magnoliarose says:

      Since this story broke, I have been moody and anxious but exhausted while wired at the same time. My heart just hurts for women, and every story told makes me want to hug that person and cry a little with them. We have been walking around with all of this pain inside not realizing right next to us another woman is feeling that too.

    • Mila says:

      Honestly, I consider sharing mine because I was harassed by a Manager in my former workplace and I know no one did anything about it, in fact my colleagues are still fighting for something to happen, but what keeps me is that when it happened, I just froze and didn’t tell him never to do it again. That’s what we need to talk about too: if it’s ‘just’ a man touching you the wrong way and you don’t react in the moment, it’s difficult to prove you didn’t want it.

      • Pumpkin (formally soup, pie) says:

        Share, share, share, when you want to and how you want to. You don’t have to be alone. Just talking about it, it can lessen the burden, as one of my friends used to say.
        “Just a man touching you the wrong way and you don’t react in the moment, it’s difficult to prove you didn’t want it”.
        I have been there, at 16, when my PE teacher touched my breasts during class. At 20, when a neighbour touched my vagina while I was climbing a fence. At 24, when a man I considered a mentor did things to me and my body, not penetration or nipples or genitals but that.does.not.matter. It was wrong and I was shocked. It happened in a professional environment, and my organization did not have a code of conduct.
        I have boundaries, it’s not about the part of my body they touch but the context and how they do it. Truth be told, I am very resilient, considering the fact that what happened to me was not rape, sexual torture and such.
        What I have learnt is HOW to talk about it. I have the knowledge and confidence required to be able to convey what happens to me, should an “incident” occur, provided that what happens to me is not rape, because it never happened to me so I don’t know how I would go about it. I learnt from experience though and I have full confidence in the way that I can avoid certain situations. I learnt a lot on sexual and gender based violence and psychology. I can deal with harassment, because I am resilient and I have the tools. This sounds cocky, but that’s the way it is. The truth is that we, women, men, children, are not equipped to deal with sgbv. We don’t learn about it in school or family – except maybe in Scandinavian or Nordic countries. But we CAN learn, there are so many resources available. A very important element is personality and culture. My personality goes against my culture, and it got me very far.
        Mila, I like your name, I don’t know where you’re from. The only Mila I know is Mila Kunis – i LOVE her.

    • Sophia's Side eye says:

      One thing I’ve been feeling is, I’ve never known that I was so not alone. It’s a strange thing because it doesn’t make it better, in fact it makes it worse because I know how it feels, and the magnitude of the damage absolutely horrifies me.

  3. Megan says:

    Perhaps she can’t name names because of an NDA. Hollywood is such a cesspool.

  4. SM says:

    In the wake of the HW mess, this is the only statement that I truly appreceate.

    • kaye says:

      really? i want to believe that you aren’t as callous as this comment makes you sound–because it sounds from your words that you have been sitting at home with a rubric to grade statements with, deciding which statements are “real” to you and which ones are not–seriously?

      Who do you think you are?

      Regarding this post and all the posts–what Reese articulates beautifully is the common thread of all, “silence as a condition of employment,” which is something every single one of us who have been harassed or assaulted know all too well.

      • Who ARE These People? says:

        Kaye, thanks for singling out the role of silence. Silence is what allows all forms of abuse to be perpetuated and the power system silences victims across the board. It’s just awful. It is so important that we are hearing all our women’s voices now, in the public eye and in private life. Will men listen to these voices?

      • magnoliarose says:

        Kaye, I used to feel upset when people posted things like that, but now I understand. This scandal is triggering some intense and frightening emotions for women, and we all react in different ways. Everyone needs to hear something different and what resonates for some doesn’t for others. I hope that growth happens and victimization is better understood.

        I had some friends in town who had been actors, and we could not stop talking. The husband has been my friend forever, and his wife is just a fantastic woman but OMG the things she endured that drove her to quit. One last incident and he threw his promising career away too, and they left LA to pursue another dream. We had drifted apart, but this whole thing brought us all together again, but she told me why she had been so distant.
        She can’t name her assaulter because he is powerful and made her sign an NDA. They are tricky about it and take advantage of a victim’s shame to silence them and rob them of their power.

        But the things she said about some others and the stories they shared about HW are just outrageous. That is how I knew it was impossible not to know he was a dirtbag but many couldn’t be truthful because the price is so high that it is better to talk privately. I get that, and I hope they know it isn’t their fault no matter what. Harvey is the villain all day and in every instance. However, they decide to process it and handle it is their call but the shame is his, not theirs.

        The saddest part is that who HW bragged about is well known and who traded for success is known, and they will probably also pay the price with HW’s downfall. He won’t be around to promote them any longer so of course there will be fallout. It is unfair because they are also victims, all women in his orbit are victims, but he poisoned everything he touched.
        I hate him.

      • Wilma says:

        @magnoliarose Yes, that’s what I’ve been thinking about. The women who gave into him. It’s one thing to share your story of fighting someone of, but it must feel impossible to tell your story when you didn’t and you took roles HW got you.

    • V4Real says:

      @SM before I judge your comment may I ask why?

  5. adastraperaspera says:

    Really hits me where it hurts. “Silence was a condition of my employment…” For some reason, reminds me of what happened to Judy Garland as a child actor.

  6. ell says:

    ‘I think that we need to both applaud and champion women who are telling their stories and to understand why so many of us aren’t ready.’

    thank you for writing this, i completely agree and it’s so so very important to support those women telling their stories, but have sympathy and understanding for those who don’t want to talk, for whatever reason.

  7. Div says:

    Poor Reese. There are really only two options when it comes to her attacker: Robert Mulligan, who was in his late 60s, and Andy Tennant, who would have been in his mid 30s. The only other director she worked with at that time was Diane Keaton of all people. I wonder if other stories will come out about one of the directors now that Reese has spoken up…

    On a lighter note, she looks lovely.

  8. JeanGenie says:

    Everyone, all at once, please: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1… names!

    • LooseSeal says:

      No. I’m not going to demand anything of an assault victim. I’ll support them, uplift them and help create a world where victims can feel safe. That means letting them tell their stories at their own pace.

    • Who ARE These People? says:

      No. They can if they can, and will if they will. Have you ever been threatened with a lawsuit? Have you ever had to defend yourself against people who say that you’re crazy or you made things up? I think names will come over time, more often when the perpetrators are out of the industry/retired/DEAD, but right now the most important thing to know about the perpetrators is this:

      1. They were in positions of power and authority over the actors.
      2. Most of them were men exploiting girls and women.
      3. A few were men exploiting boys and men.

      You know who hasn’t issued a statement? The head of CAA.

    • lucy2 says:

      No. That’s going to lead to guessing games, and the naming of people who may have done absolutely nothing. Look at Gretchen Mol’s situation, where through blind items and insinuation and guessing, her name was synonymous with Weinstein and the casting couch, for no reason.
      Reese has her reasons, legal, personal, whatever they are, for not naming that person.

    • Pumpkin (formally soup, pie) says:

      I wish they mentioned the names. The human story is important, but what they leave of the story is the name of the perpetrator. If they don’t do it, they give them more power. Report it to the police, they have good lawyers. Apologies if I am too blunt.

      • Sky says:

        This happened when she was 16 and she is now in her 40s. The authorities can’t do anything no matter how much money she has or how good of lawyer she hires. Statue of Liberty Station which protects people like face, and it’s nothing for the victims.

    • Mrs.Krabapple says:

      I posted on another thread a few days ago how I’m torn in this subject. On the one hand, I want the perpetrators to go to prison, and that probably cannot happen unless a victim is brave enough to step forward. On the other hand, I totally understand why they cannot come forward — their livelihoods are at stake, they do no want to relive it, they will be attacked themselves as liars or asking for it, or family or others close to them will be attacked for “setting it up,” etc. So there are many reasons why they cannot name names; but again, I wish they would, so the perps can be charged. It’s a tough situation for the victims.

  9. AngieB says:

    has anyone who has come forward named anyone or are all of these assholes are still free to continue their behavior with no consequences?

    • Who ARE These People? says:

      Someone would have to make a claim to HR or file a lawsuit. It seems like the hope is that general shaming is going to get the job done. I don’t know if it will work, nor do any of us, but the victims are entitled to control their stories.

      Plenty of them have named Harvey Weinstein, that’s for sure.

      Let’s hope more names emerge, but this next phase is up to the victims and I hope that having general support helps them feel more comfortable. They’ve “grown up” in that system and just because they’re in the public eye doesn’t make them feel invincible.

  10. vava says:

    I’m glad to see people speak out about this issue. What I’d really like to see is the records unlocked from The Apprentice, to see what pure hell Trump imposed on people. And his behavior with the beauty contestants. All this got buried and it needs to be revealed.

    • Betsy says:

      It doesn’t. But I’m at a place where it’s like, to what end? I’m feeling so hopeless about things ever getting better in regards to women’s rights and safety. There are absolutely zero surprises as to what kind of trash 45* is, and STILL most white women voted for the dingus (I’ll scream here, “NOT ME!”. Even though he bragged about sexual assault. I just can’t even. Did they think that because those women were in entertainment, it’s cool, it’s expected. My mother was assaulted by a family member as a child. Both my sisters were. I mean, I’m just worn down by this.

    • Erica_V says:

      I think we might get that sooner rather than later as the assault case he was subpoenaed on has to do with The Apprentice. If I was his accuser I would make them pull every single tape to show a pattern of repeat behavior.

  11. Urs says:

    Her speech was so thoughtful and moving.

    Thank you Reese.

  12. LooseSeal says:

    Honestly, with each woman that speaks out, I only feel more hopeful. Maybe it’s because I’m a survivor as well and I already know how often it happens. This is the first time in my lifetime it’s out there. It’s no longer just women whispering warnings to each other at cocktail parties or or quietly sharing their pain in living rooms and back yards. This is powerful women coming out in droves and telling their stories honestly, not sugar coating the anguish of survival. I’ve never felt safer to be a woman.

  13. Cee says:

    This has triggered me severely, which is why I kept away from this site yesterday. I’m not only reliving moments, but I’m feeling shame and anger all over again. It was humbling to see how many of my friends and acquaintances wrote #metoo on their social media.

  14. Henry Barnill says:

    I’ve always hated Reese for her reprehensible behavior during the night she and her husband drive drunk and was more angry about the cop not knowing her name than almost killing someone and only giving half-hearted apologies about it.

    THAT being said, I can’t imagine the pain she went through during all these assaults. My thoughts are out to her and my disgust to Hollywood has never been more apparent.

  15. Katherine says:

    Glad she shared. I find myself unwilling to talk as well.

  16. browniecakes says:

    Reese started pretty young. Hope it heals for many to share now, as she feels it is.

  17. lucy2 says:

    I hate reading all of these, but I’m so damn proud of every woman speaking up. It has to change.
    After Reese and Jennifer’s stories today, both of which described awful things happening to them at very young ages, I hope every under age actor, male or female, has a parent, guardian, agent, or some sort of advocate with them at all times – on set, in meetings, at wardrobe fittings, etc.

  18. crazydaisy says:

    I recently read a gawker.com interview with Sean Young, that she gave last year, where she said she had experienced a lot of sexual harassment, and paid a high price for not putting up with it.

    She also said she would never name names because “it won’t hurt the person I name, it’ll only hurt me. If I thought that it would actually hurt the person that’s responsible for it, I would, but it won’t. It’ll just hurt me.”

    I wonder if she has changed her mind about that, and is going to come forward now?

  19. SK says:

    Yes. Flashed by a man in the bushes with a penis in my face at 8. First stalker at 12. Joined by a second stalker at 13, the two rang my house and breathed down the line for months, followed me constantly, harassed me and chased me down an empty hallway after school before one day attacking and assaulting me in a classroom. It would have been worse if other students didn’t interrupt and my school dealt with it appallingly. They then spread rumours I was a frigid b*tch. At 14 got drunk for the first time at a party and while falling down drunk was dragged off to the bushes and sexually assaulted by a guy there who I had rejected repeatedly over the course of the night and whose nickname amongst the girls was “serial rapist” and subsequently had to live down blow job slutty rumours for years. Was groped and harassed numerous times over the next years, my vagina was roughly grabbed once and I was called a lesbian because I didn’t want to kiss a particular boy. All that kind of thing that is oh-so-common. Leading up to my boyfriend of 3 weeks who I had known my whole life raping me at 17. I was recovering from an operation, weak and had my period and a tampon in. Oh and I was a virgin at the time. As an adult I’ve had yet another stalker who got so bad he got fired from our company and eventually deported. I’ve woken up on the couch at a small party with a friend’s boyfriend’s fingers inside me, I’ve been sexually harassed by a famous presenter at my work Christmas Party with a truly appalling response by my company. I’ve been hassled and harassed and had bruises countless times from pinches to my arse. I once had to jump from a moving car because of a seriously scary situation that was happening and a man who wouldn’t stop or let me out and was trying to make me perform sexual acts – someone I thought was a rescuer when I had been robbed and was trying to get to a phone to call my parents for help. I have had a consensual sexual encounter turn very nasty with me having to repeatedly push a guy off and yell no and then call the police because he locked me inside his apartment and wouldn’t let me out. Oh I’ve had my drink spiked too. Every female I know, if you dig a bit, has stories. Not one story, many. Many of my friends have much worse stories than me. Many women I’ve seen in the comments sections of places like Jezebel and here have such horrifying stories I bow down to their ability to carry on. We have a serious systemic problem of sexual assault and harassment and so many people are just blind to it. An open public conversation is an incredibly important first step.

    • Snowflake says:

      I am so sorry that happened to you

    • JRenee says:

      I am so sorry that you experienced that, all of that. Hope you are healing and able to trust again someday.
      My timeline has been filled with me too as well. I think whatever they choose to share is an act of bravery and hopefully a step towards healing.

      • SK says:

        Thank you, all of you. I really appreciate your thoughts and support. It means a lot. I would like to say that I am perfectly fine. I can trust, I’m happy, I can have healthy relationships, I’m not damaged anymore. In a really good place. The rape when I was 17 really screwed me up for about 5 years – although most people would never have known that. I was the “fun!” person. But I did work through it. It makes me sad that it happened to me but I’m healed from the actual trauma of it. The rest… well I just overcame it at the time and eventually moved on from each of the more serious ones. I’m very open about all of this and I tell people all the time. I think it’s really been the best thing for me: to talk about it. To tell people. To let the poison out, I’ve had a lot of really excellent conversations with men where I explain these things. They are truly horrified and I explain to them that my experience is not uncommon in any way. It’s not even “bad” compared to many others. I think it’s good for them to hear these experiences. And from there I explain to them what rape culture is, why I am such a big feminist, some of the issues that are important to me and why conversations about this are so important. I like to think I’ve opened the eyes and minds of quite a lot of men right up.

        For the ladies who had similar experiences to me… all the hugs in the world to you. I hope that being able to share and knowing you’re not alone helps. Much love and hugs.

    • Candion says:

      Are you sure you’re not me? Except for the first incident I’ve had the exact same encounters and roughly the same ages. I haven’t spoken up about many they happened so long ago and I feel like that men just are here for their carnal pleasures. I’ve had worse work situations and ended up quitting my last job 20 years ago so I wouldn’t have to deal with any more men bosses.

  20. Unicorn_Realist says:

    Sk… your post looks like mine a few days ago. Indomt know you but huge hug to you and to all that have suffered.

  21. becoo says:

    Thoughts on who the director may have been?

  22. Sarah says:

    When I was 23 or 24 I worked for a newspaper selling ads (stressful job). One day my boss told me that there were a group of reps from a major grocery store chain who would be in our city. He had arranged to meet with them and wanted me to come along. And then he said “if they want to play ‘kissy face’ you need to step up to the plate”. What??????? I couldn’t believe my ears (I was young and dumb). He repeated it. Then he told me I needed to wear something tight and sexy. I was so angry and frankly, confused. I loved my job and I was good at it but there was no way I going to prostitute myself to sell advertising. The night we (me, my boss and 2 other co-workers) had dinner with the grocery chain reps I wore a very conservative dress. Then I absolutely refused to engage in their vulgar conversation. Halfway thru the meal I got up and left. To finish this long story – I got fired the very next week for “not being a team player” and “having poor people skills”. I got fired for not putting out and I knew it. It was all so unfair and I was heartbroken. Looking back now I should have sued the hell out of everyone involved. But that was 30 years ago and I don’t think a lawyer would have even talked to me. Yep – men in power are pigs.

  23. Stacey says:

    All these stories being relayed is great. But….we’ll get nowhere until the attackers are named. NAMED.

  24. IrishEyes says:

    I’ve had my share of perverts. I went to NY to study acting as I was encouraged by my teachers and instructor because I was told I was good and could be great. I got in to a prestigious school. At one point we were encouraged to get head shot done and we were given a list of names and a few of us went to together. As the photographer was taking photos, he was encouraging us to remove your tops. Some of the girls did it, but I refused to. Their head shots not boob shots. HE came up to me, and tried to pull down my shirt. I pushed him away and told him DO NOT TOUCH ME AGAIN. He still kept trying and I had had enough. I grabbed my things and left and never looked back. I wanted to be an actress NOT a porn star and that’s the way he made me feel cheap and dirty. Some old gross man looking to cop a feel. I don’t regret quitting. But, I saw the dark side of the entertainment industry and these pervert, pedophiles, serial rapist and sexual predator have a safe place, to hone their perversion in the open where no one judges them and are allowing to prey on the young, naive and vulnerable girls and boys. I can’t wrap my head around these actresses who were assaulted and keep it quiet so they could continue to prey on others. If they had gotten together and exposed Harvey and others like him. These threats of “you’ll never work in this town again” would have no pull or meaning if there was a group of 25 to 35 women coming together, possibly do a talk show to take him down as a group and exposing his dirty, old, fat man behavior. Instead each actress was more concern with their individual careers. I tell you, if that photographer had touched me again, he would need a catheter and a plastic bag to urinate for the rest of his life.