"[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," Witherspoon said the Elle Women in Hollywood event at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. Witherspoon, 41, admitted that she'd been forced to confront her past experiences in the wake of the fallout from the New York Times exposé of Harvey Weinstein. The bombshell piece, which was later joined by an investigative piece from The New Yorker, opened a Pandora's box of Hollywood horror stories. Since its publication, actresses such as America Ferrera, Blake Lively, and Jennifer Lawrence have detailed past experiences with sexual harassment and assault in the industry.
"This has been a really hard week for women in Hollywood, for women all over the world, for men in a lot of situations and a lot of industries that are forced to remember and relive a lot of ugly truths," Witherspoon admitted. "I have my own experiences that have come back to me very vividly, and I found it really hard to sleep, hard to think, hard to communicate."
Witherspoon went on to explain that her sexual assault was not an "isolated incident." She added that she's had "multiple" experiences like it in the industry, and she seldom speaks of them. For much of her career, it seems a culture of silence and payoffs permeated Hollywood.
But now, the box is opened — with the viral #metoo campaign, women everywhere have spoken up about sexual assault, harassment, and rape. Witherspoon said that hearing stories from other women inspired her to come forward.
Explained Witherspoon, "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." Ava DuVernay, Kristen Stewart, Lake Bell, Laura Dern, and producer Kathleen Kennedy also spoke at the event.
Though the week's events have been harrowing, Witherspoon concluded that this new culture of speaking up made her feel less isolated. She said, "I actually felt less alone this week than I have ever felt in my entire career."
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).