Reese Witherspoon: I Was Sexually Assaulted By a Director at 16

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If there is any silver lining at all to the horrifying reports of sexual assault by Harvey Weinstein over the course of decades, it is that the discussion and pressure might make it easier for more women -- and men -- to come forward with their own grim stories of sexual harassment and assault.

If you've been on Twitter or Facebook for the last few days, you've probably seen a solid chunk of your female acquaintances write "Me Too." Many people, celebrities included, are speaking out -- even if they're not naming names.

Reese Witherspoon is revealing her own story, of when she was sexually assaulted by a director when she was just 16.

Reese Witherspoon at the 2016 Oscars

We've seen women from all walks of life post "Me Too," whether as part of the hashtag on Twitter or in a simple post on Facebook.

These are women from rural areas and from major cities. Women young and old. Women with top-notch careers and women who were stay-at-home moms.

Not all shared more than "me too."

While it may matter to them and the course of their lives whether their experiences are with sexual harassment or with sexual assault, the point of the "me too" posts was to show other women that they're not alone and to show men that, yes, literally everyone knows women who have been through this.

Many, many women.

However, some women are telling their stories. Whether naming names or not, they're talking about the sorts of gendered harassment and violence they've experienced during their lives.

Both close calls and times when they didn't escape.

Now Reese Witherspoon is adding her voice to the chorus.

Reese Witherspoon at the Golden Globes

Last night, Reese Witherspoon gave a speech at the Elle Women in Hollywood event sponsored by Calvin Klein and L’Oréal Paris.

As reported by People, Reese spoke about her first sexual assault -- and revealed that it was sadly not her last.

"This has been a really hard week for women in Hollywood, for women all over the world, and a lot of situations and a lot of industries are forced to remember and relive a lot of ugly truths."

Remember, this discussion might be good for women in the long run, but for survivors, it also means reliving their trauma.

If you've never had a traumatic flashback, think of those times when you relive an awkward or humiliating moment that you had as a child. You cringe, right?

Now imagine that instead of an embarrassing moment that only you remember, it's a vivid recollection of the worst moments of your life.

"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, honest, the guilt for not speaking up earlier."

Those sound like classic PTSD symptoms.

And Reese tells you exactly why:

"[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."

Horrible. The assault itself, and the cover-up that ensued.

"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."

We've heard it said, by survivors, that they feared that they were more likely to be assaulted again. Because predators might realize that they were victims before, but also because their bodies freeze up as a defense mechanism.

Reese Witherspoon birthday selfie

Reese Witherspoon goes on to explain why she felt inspired to speak up.

"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 is inspiring but sad at the same time.

"I have just spoken to so many actresses and writers, particularly women, who have had similar experiences and many of them have bravely gone public with their stories. That truth is very encouraging to me and everyone out there in the world because you can only heal by telling the truth."

Just as Evan Rachel Wood says, there is strength in numbers, and women know that.

"I feel really, really encouraged that there will be a new normal. For the young women in this room, life is going to be different because we’re with you, we have your back and it makes me feel better. It makes me so sad to talk about these issues, but I would be remiss not to."

Reese Witherspoon at the 2015 Oscars

We absolutely hope that Reese Witherspoon's optimism about a changing culture will be justified.

We're not going to hold our breath for Harvey Weinstein to face justice. Sure he got fired from his own company, but that's just business -- not justice.

The Motion Picture Academy may have booted him out, but they still have Bill Cosby and Woody Allen in their ranks. Clearly, people in power aren't going to make changes unless they're forced to do so.

There are plenty of predators in Hollywood and elsewhere who are happy to condemn Weinstein ... and are just waiting for the public attention to die down.

But every moment of even incremental change is a step towards a better world. Reese Witherspoon, sharing her story, is part of that.

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Reese Witherspoon Biography

Gyllenspoon Make History
Reese Witherspoon won an Oscar for Walk The Line - and with it, the hearts of Americans everywhere. Not that she hadn't had them locked... More »
Born
Birthplace
New Orleans, Louisiana
Full Name
Laura Jeanne Reese Witherspoon