Actor says that agents and producers told her to remain silent about the incident, which she says was the first of many experiences of sexual assault and harassment throughout her career
Reese Witherspoon has alleged that she was sexually assaulted by a director when she was 16, but was told to remain silent by agents and producers.
The actor made the claims during a speech reflecting on the problems faced by women in the film industry at the Elle Women in Hollywood event on Monday, People reports. Witherspoon did not name the director in question but said that the incident was the first of many experiences of “harassment and sexual assault” throughout her career.
“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, the guilt for not speaking up earlier,” 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. 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,” she added.
Witherspoon said that she was prompted to speak up after hearing other accounts of sexual assault faced by women in the film industry. “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,” she added.
The actor’s comments come at a time when Hollywood is reckoning with a culture of abuse in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. Weinstein has been accused of sexual assault and harassment by more than two dozen women over four decades. The producer has “unequivocally denied” allegations of nonconsensual sex, and denies many of the claims of sexual harassment made against him.
The allegations made against Weinstein have prompted a wider discussion on sexual abuse inside and outside the film industry. On Monday actor Alyssa Milano encouraged women on Twitter to speak out about their own experiences of harassment by using the #MeToo hashtag. Among those responding to Milano’s call-out was Ugly Betty actor America Ferrera, who said that she was sexually assaulted when she was nine years old. “I told no one and lived with the shame and guilt thinking all along that I, a nine-year-old child, was somehow responsible for the actions of a grown man,” Ferrara wrote on Instagram.
Also speaking at the Elle event, Jennifer Lawrence shared her own experiences as a young woman in the film industry. The actor revealed that on one early production she was made to take part in a naked lineup with other female actors, an experience she described as “degrading and humiliating”.