Reese Witherspoon has revealed she was sexually assaulted by a director when she was 16 years old, as the conversation around sexual harassment and abuse continues in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein allegations.
Hollywood producer Weinstein is now being investigated by police in the US and the UK after women started coming forward following a report by The New York Times alleging he used his power in the industry to attack and often silence women.
The various allegations have encouraged wider discussion around sexual harassment, spawning the #MeToo hashtag to highlight how widespread the problem is generally, as well as prompted several high-profile actors to speak out about their own experiences in Hollywood specifically.
According to people.com, Witherspoon, speaking at the Elle Women in Hollywood event on Monday (16 October), said that she’d first been assaulted when she was a teenager, and said that she, as many other survivors of abuse have reported, feels “guilt” for not coming forward earlier.
“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, being honest, the guilt for not speaking up earlier or taking action,” she said.
“[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.”
Big Little Lies star Witherspoon went on to say that she’d felt able to discuss her experiences after hearing of so many others coming forward during what she’d called “a really hard week for women in Hollywood.”
“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,” she said.
“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 […]
“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.”
She added: “It makes me so sad to talk about these issues, but I would be remiss not to.”
Weinstein denies any “non-consensual sex” but is seeking therapy and in early statements referred to making “mistakes” and said: “I came of age in the Sixties and Seventies, when all the rules about behaviour and workplaces were different. That was the culture then […] I appreciate the way I've behaved with colleagues in the past has caused a lot of pain, and I sincerely apologise for it.”
His wife, Marchesa designer Georgina Chapman, released a statement days after the original report in The New York Times saying she was leaving the film mogul, while his legal advisor Lisa Bloom left his team, saying she made a “colossal mistake” in initially representing him, having previously claimed he was “an old dinosaur learning new ways.”
Fatima Goss Graves of the National Women’s Law Center told The New York Times that the story has led to “twice the volume of calls of people who have said they’ve experienced harassment.”
Image: Rex Features