23 Celebrities Who Spoke Out About Overcoming Sexual Assault
Sexual assault is a traumatic experience all survivors process and heal from in different ways.
Since April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Elite Daily rounded up celebrities who have spoken up about experiencing sexual abuse, as well as how they overcome such painful moments in their lives.
Here are 23 celebrities who have experienced sexual assault firsthand, and are committed to speaking out about it in order to stop rape culture:
1. Gabrielle Union
While she was 19 years old and working at a Payless shoe store, Union was raped at gunpoint by an employee from another store location. The actress told Oprah.com,
It wasn't long before I became uncomfortable with feeling like a victim.
She credits therapy and a carefully curated social circle for her healing. Empowering other sexual assault survivors has become as much a part of her life's work as her wildly successful acting career, as evidenced by her empathetic response to survivors who chose to sit out her most recent film, "Birth of A Nation," due to Nate Parker's sexual assault allegations.
2. Lady Gaga
Lady Gaga revealed during a 2014 Howard Stern interview that she was raped by a man "20 years older than her," as reported by Time. She's used her art to empower other survivors on multiple occasions.
One of her most critically acclaimed performances to date is of her record, "'Til It Happens To You," during the 2016 Oscars. She wrote the song for the soundtrack to that year's campus rape documentary, "The Hunting Ground."
Afterward, close family members who had no idea she was a survivor reached out to extend their support to her.
The pop star shared her feelings via this heartfelt Instagram post:
Gaga has also chosen to "stand by" singer Kesha, who has been forced to remain under contract with her producer, Dr. Luke. She says he raped her when she was 18 years old.
The icon revealed on an episode of "The Howard Stern Show" that she was raped at knifepoint while living in New York City.
Well, I was told that if I wanted to press charges, you know, physical examination, I'd have to go before the court, they're going to ask you all these personal questions. It's like so violating. You've already been violated; so then do you want to talk about it? Do you want to make it public? No, it's just not worth it. It's too humiliating.
Media mogul Oprah Winfrey has long been vocal about being sexually assaulted as a child. During a 1991 Academy of Achievement interview, she shared,
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. It was just an ongoing, continuous thing. So much so, I started to think, you know, 'This is the way life is.'
She's since empowered other survivors on her motivational tours.
During a 2015 Melbourne stop in Australia, she shared how speaking up liberated her.
I soon realized having the secret out was liberating. What I learned for sure was that holding the shame was the greatest burden of all.
5. Jane Fonda
The legendary actress and longtime activist opened up about how being sexually abused influenced her push for feminism and women's rights. She said to Brie Larson during an interview for Net-a-Porter's The Edit,
To show you the extent to which a patriarchy takes a toll on females; I've been raped, I've been sexually abused as a child and I've been fired because I wouldn't sleep with my boss and I always thought it was my fault; that I didn't do or say the right thing. One of the great things the women's movement has done is to make us realize that [rape and abuse is] not our fault.
6. Ashley Judd
In her memoir "All That Is Bitter and Sweet," Judd details her childhood experiences with molestation and incest.
She also shared during a 2012 interview on ABC's "The View,"
The shame and the keeping ourselves sick through secretiveness is something I think we need to have the courage to undo. Perpetrators are shameless, and they're falsely empowered by media and by stereotyping. What a perpetrator does is he puts his shame on the vulnerable child. It's through recovery that we learn to put the shame back where it belongs. We put it back on the perpetrators. In our soceity, we actually have to put the shame back on the cultural institutions that are shaming girls, too.
Judd is one of many celebrities vocal against Donald Trump and his predatory comments about women.
She wrote on Twitter,
7. Tyler Perry
The film maven spoke candidly during an interview with Oprah about the sexual abuse he endured as a child. He became one of the most visible voices for men who are often overlooked as sexual assault survivors.
He shared how he was abused by four different men as an adolescent, and described how one of them used his faith to manipulate him.
[The man from church] used God and the Bible against me to justify a lot of the things that were going on. It was so horrible.
Perry being so vocal arrived as a breath of fresh air when it comes to male celebrities speaking out about their experiences with sexual assault. Often, young men's premature sexual experiences are too often celebrated as a rite of passage — think Chris Brown and "The Breakfast Club" radio host, Charlemagne Tha God — instead of labeled as exactly what they are: rape.
8. Fiona Apple
In 1998, the singer shared with Rolling Stone she was sexually assaulted by a guy who followed her into her apartment building after school. During a 1997 interview with indie magazine Nuvo, she talked about the freedom in sharing her story.
If I'm in a position where people are looking up to me in any way, then it's absolutely my responsibility to be open and honest about this, because if I'm not, what does that say to people? It doesn't change a person — well, it does change a person, but it doesn't take anything away from you. It can only strengthen you.
9. Queen Latifah
The actress revealed in the July 2009 issue of Essence magazine that she was violated by a babysitter.
He violated me. I never told anybody; I just buried it as deeply as I could and kept people at an arm's distance. I never really let a person get too close to me. I could have been married years ago, but I had a commitment issue.
10. Maya Angelou
The famed poet and activist wrote about experiencing sexual assault at the hands of her mother's boyfriend in her 1969 memoir, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings." He was arrested and jailed, and on the day of his release, found beaten to death.
Angelou blamed herself for speaking his name, and was therefore silent for the next five years.
She shared during an interview how she turned that period of silence into strength to speak out.
To show you again, how out of evil there can come good, in those five years, I read every book in the black school library. I read all the books I could get from the white school library. I memorized Shakespeare. Whole plays, 50 sonnets. When I decided to speak, I had a lot to say and many ways in which to say what I had to say. I was saved in that muteness.
11. Keke Palmer
Palmer opened up about her childhood molestation in 2016, and also wrote about the experience in her new memoir, "I Don't Belong to You." She said during a Wendy Williams interview,
Yeah, it's a family member. She's still very much part [of my life]. [I treat her] Very normal. I think that's the weird thing about it. Often, we can't name the things in our lives because they happened so quickly, and we often have no knowledge of what went on.
12. Don Lemon
The CNN anchor shared he was sexually abused during his childhood by the son of his mother's friend. He did this while interviewing young men on air who alleged Bishop Eddie Long abused them when they were teenagers.
He later wrote about the abuse in his 2011 memoir, "Transparent."
13. Amy Schumer
The comedian revealed the traumatic way she "lost her virginity," telling Marie Claire,
My first sexual experience was not a good one. I didn't think about it until I started reading my journal again. When it happened, I wrote about it almost like a throwaway. It was like, and then I looked down and realized he was inside of me. He was saying, 'I'm so sorry' and 'I can't believe I did this.' I had another time with a boyfriend where I was saying, 'No, stop,' and it was just completely ignored.
14. Fantasia Barrino
The R&B singer revealed she was raped by a classmate in her high school auditorium in her 2006 memoir, "Life Is Not a Fairy Tale."
She described the aftermath in a "20/20" interview, reports ABC News.
My mom comes upstairs and she says, 'Something is wrong with you.' I wouldn't even talk. She says, 'Have you been touched?' I still said nothing. I laid in that bed for two days. I wouldn't even go to school. At one point in time I was saying it was my fault – just because of the way I was dressed, I caused it on myself.
15. Fran Drescher
Drescher, most popularly known for her role as Fran Fine on "The Nanny," shared on "Larry King Live" that she and a friend were raped after a man and his brother broke into her apartment and robbed them.
She also wrote about the ordeal in her book, "Cancer Schmancer." The book discusses how she overcame both uterine cancer and sexual assault.
She says of the experience,
A lot of silver linings came out of the cancer, too. But I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy, and I'm not glad I had it, but within the experience I was changed for the better. And the same thing was with the rape. I mean, I became a deeper, more compassionate person. I became a better actor.
16. Sheila E.
Legendary musician Sheila E. wrote about being assaulted at 5 years old by a cousin and babysitter in her memoir, "The Beat of My Own Drum."
She shared during a Fox 5 News interview,
It's part of my testimony to share with people; a lot of people – especially women – feel they are the only ones, but they're not.
The actress and comedian revealed in the October 2008 issue of Essence that she was abused by her older brother. She explained how playing the role of Mary in the film "Precious" helped her forgive him.
Goddamn it. It's my obligation to let people know, and to tell them to watch their children."
18. Pamela Anderson
The actress and model revealed at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival she experienced sexual assault three times in her life by a babysitter, a friend's boyfriend, and a high school boyfriend and his friends, as reported by Us Weekly.
Needless to say, I had a hard time trusting humans, and I just wanted off this earth.
Anderson also shared how her love for animals helped her overcome such painful experiences:
My affinity with animals saved me, they came to me naturally. My loyalty remains with the animal kingdom. I vowed to protect them, and only them.
19. AnnaLynne McCord
The "90210" actress revealed during a BBC interview for International Women's Day that she was raped in her own home by someone she considered a friend.
For 10 years, I thought it was my fault. I didn't fight back. I found out recently through my studies of neuroscience that my body completely shut down and wouldn't let me fight back because I thought that was the only way to cope with abuse.
McCord now empowers survivors via her work with anti-sex trafficking organizations and her film, "I Choose," which marks the difference between a consensual relationship and sex trafficking.
20. Viola Davis
The "HTGAWM" and "Fences" actress spoke about how pervasive rape culture was in her childhood neighborhood at the Rape Foundation's annual brunch in Beverly Hills, People reported.
Myself, my mother, my sisters, my friend Rebecca, my friend from childhood, we all have one thing in common: We are all survivors of sexual assault in some way, shape or form.
She also stressed the importance of survivors speaking up, as well as people listening:
Memories demand attention because memories have teeth. That sexual assault perpetrator can move on. The only person who rapes is the rapist. The person who is left behind has to pay over, and over, and over again.
21. Jade Tolbert (Formerly Jade Roper)
After Lady Gaga's Oscar performance of "'Til It Happens To You," the former "Bachelor" star penned an essay about how she coped with being sexually assaulted at a party.
I convinced myself I must have deserved it. That this bad thing happened to me because of something I had done. That I wasn't worth being loved.
Tolbert also described how she feels now, as a survivor.
I am not chained to this experience, it doesn't have to control my life. This happened to me and it matters. I matter. And I am worthy of love.
22. Rose McGowan
The "Charmed" star opened up on Twitter about being slut-shamed into not reporting that a Hollywood executive had assaulted her.
23. Evan Rachel Wood
The "Westworld" actress wrote a self-described "confession letter" to Rolling Stone about the shame she carried as a sexual assault survivor, and how she overcame various instances of abuse.
She tweeted the letter in full: