It takes a lot of courage for anyone, let alone those constantly in the spotlight, to open up about a traumatic experience—especially something as harrowing as sexual assault. Every 98 seconds, someone in this country suffers this form of abuse, and with today’s victim-blaming culture, survivors often hesitate to speak out for fear of being judged or even accused of lying. But celebrities from Lady Gaga to Paris Jackson are coming forward not only to raise awareness, but also to let these victims know they’re not alone. Here, artists and actresses who have used their public platform on behalf of marginalized victims to help end the stigma surrounding sexual assault.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit rainn.org for confidential support.
In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Michael Jackson's daughter revealed she was sexually assaulted at age 14, describing the assailant as a "complete stranger" who was much older. "I don't wanna give too many details," Paris said. "But it was not a good experience at all, and it was really hard for me, and at the time I didn't tell anybody."
The pop star co-wrote and performed the song "Til It Happens to You," a heartbreaking ballad that accompanied the 2015 campus-rape documentary The Hunting Ground. The year before, she told Howard Stern that she was 19 when a man 20 years her senior sexually assaulted her. "I didn't tell anyone for, I think, seven years," she said. "I didn't know how not to blame myself or think it was my fault. It changed who I was completely."
In The Birth of a Nation, a movie that happened to be directed by a man who was accused and acquitted of sexual assault (with the accuser later committing suicide), Gabrielle played a woman who was raped—but it turns out her pain existed beyond the screen. "Twenty-four years ago I was raped at gunpoint in the cold, dark back room of the Payless shoe store where I was then working," she wrote in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times in September. "Post-traumatic stress syndrome is very real and chips away at the soul and sanity of so many of us who have survived sexual violence."
The 90210 star also played a character who was raped, recounting that she felt ready until the cameras started rolling. "I broke down, sobbing uncontrollably," she wrote in an essay for Cosmopolitan. "My castmates thought I had done a great job playing the part. They had no idea I had actually been sexually assaulted by someone I knew in real life." For years, she struggled with suicidal thoughts after a male friend forced himself on her while she was sleeping, until she eventually sought professional help. "You have a voice," she added. "Don't put yourself in a box. Don't let the polite lies of society silence you."
In a profoundly emotional interview with Vanity Fair, Teri talked about being sexually molested by her uncle, starting when she was just five years old. He was eventually arrested for abusing a 14-year-old neighbor who went on to commit suicide. "I kept thinking, if she'd known me, especially me being famous; if I could have said to her, 'Look, it happened to me!'; if I could just have said to her, 'You're going to be okay,'" Teri recalled. Now she wants to use her fame to help others speak out. "I only wanted to talk about it if I thought it was going to help people," she said.
When she was a child, Queen Latifah was the victim of sexual assault by her teenage caretaker. "He violated me," she told Essence. "I never told anybody; I just buried it as deeply as I could and kept people at an arm's distance." She struggled with commitment and trust issues until she told her parents about the incident. She's learned how to cope, although she admits wishing she "had the strength and the knowledge to say something sooner."
The musical powerhouse bravely told Harper's Bazaar that her attacker dragged her to the roof of a building with a knife to her back, and she went into even more detail in an interview with Howard Stern. She spoke about having just moved to New York City from Michigan at 19 and encountering her rapist at a dance class. "I trusted everybody," she said, admitting he persuaded her to make a call from his home when she asked for money to use a pay phone.
Precious actress Mo’Nique said she was only seven when an older brother sexually assaulted her. She confronted him and told her parents, only to be hurt by their reaction. "My father was very upset, but it never got mentioned again,” she said in an interview with Essence. "I'll never forget my mother saying, 'If it's true, it will surface again,' and I remember thinking, 'Why would I lie? Why is there even an if in this?'" In 2010, she dedicated her Golden Globe award to victims of abuse.
In her poignant memoir All That Is Bitter and Sweet, Ashley recounts an experience with an old man "everyone knew" who called her into a dark corner of a pizza restaurant and offered her a quarter for the pinball machine if she'd sit on his lap. "He opened his arms, I climbed up, and I was shocked when he suddenly cinched his arms around me, squeezing me and smothering my mouth with his." Ashley also revealed during a 2013 appearance in Washington, DC, that she's a three-time rape survivor. "I think part of what's important, in addition to how we shape the narrative, is that we all have the courage to talk about it, because we're as sick as our secrets and the shame keeps us in isolation," she said.
Viola was a guest of honor at the Rape Foundation's Annual Brunch last year when she gave a powerful speech about the significance of the organization's cause. "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 said. She talked more about her sister, who was attacked in the aisle of a corner store (and eventually turned to prostitution), as well as a friend who suffers from PTSD after her child was kidnapped, raped and murdered. "It's okay to feel angry because something has been done to you," Viola said.