Justice for Survivors
TIME’S UP Refutes Russell Simmons’ Distortions on ‘The Breakfast Club’
Entertainment, Safety, Survivors, TIME'S UP Legal Defense Fund
For Background Only
Black survivors endure a number of historical, cultural, and systemic barriers to being heard, supported, and believed. Immediately before an emotional conversation about police brutality against Black women on The Breakfast Club this morning, Russell Simmons peddled numerous myths about sexual assault, stereotypes about Black women, and distortions of facts in denying the multiple sexual assault allegations against him.
The following background information is intended to help guide reporting about Russell Simmons and the women who have come forward with allegations of sexual violence against him. It includes Simmons’ distortions from the interview, followed by facts that refute his claims. Additionally, you can contact firstname.lastname@example.org to be connected with independent experts on the effects of sexual trauma on Black women, in particular.
Russell Simmons: “I want my daughters to know how to say no, and I want my daughters to put up boundaries and be strong and be leaders.”
FACT: Black survivors are strong; each day, they are overcoming life-long trauma.
For any survivor, the consequences of sexual trauma are serious: Large, epidemiologic studies show that sexual traumas, in particular, are most frequently associated with PTSD, depression, substance misuse, suicide ideation and attempts, and other adverse health effects. And when a traumatic event such as sexual assault is perpetrated by someone close to the victim, that trauma has more severe mental health consequences as compared to trauma perpetrated by a stranger.
For Black women, the combined and compounded effects of sexism and racism can heighten depressive and PTSD symptoms. Additionally, there is evidence that sexual trauma experienced by adult Black women can result in more symptoms of PTSD with a greater severity of symptoms than when the trauma happens in childhood.
Russell Simmons: “These stories are 25 to 40 years old.”
FACT: It often takes time for survivors to come forward to anyone, let alone to the authorities.
Failure to disclose sexual assault immediately does not mean it never happened.
The vast majority of sexual assaults are never reported to authorities: RAINN estimates that out of every 1,000 sexual assault cases, only 230 are reported to the police. And for every Black woman who reports rape, at least 15 do not report. (However, two-thirds of survivors eventually disclose sexual assault to informal systems, usually family, friends, or romantic partners.)
There are many reasons why survivors do not fully disclose traumatic events until long after they occur. Because of the complex ways in which sexual assault and related coercion and abuse exploit power and control — and, thus, undermine victims’ self-confidence and self-esteem — many victims struggle to disclose an assault, and may even have trouble admitting to themselves that it happened. Victims often blame themselves for the encounter and convince themselves — or are convinced by the abuser — that an assault was not what they thought it was.
Russell Simmons: “Back then, I thought it was a game…. There were no Black actresses that I didn’t date and they’re my friends today…. They don’t have the experience of me being a monster the movie makes me out to be.”
FACT: Sexual assault is most often committed by people known to, and often trusted by, their victims.
Research also shows that one in three women and one in six men experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime. As many as six in 10 Black women report being subjected to coercive sexual contact by age 18 and Black women experience sexual harassment at work at three times the rate of white women. Of women who are raped, over half (51 percent) are raped by an intimate partner and 40 percent are raped by an acquaintance.
Finally, rape victims’ stories tend to be true: only two to eight percent of rapes are falsely reported (the percentage is the same for other felonies).
Russell Simmons: “I want my daughters to have proper boundaries, because toxic femininity is when one perhaps may not put up those boundaries and may regret it later.”
FACT: Since slavery, sexual violence and stereotypes have been used as tools of oppression and have devalued Black women in our society.
Rape of Black women was for centuries both widespread and institutionalized, and the legal system — itself often weaponized by white people — offered little protection for Black rape victims. White men routinely sexually assaulted Black women during and after slavery in the United States to engender fear in Black women and assert dominance over Black men. And there was a time in U.S. history in which rape laws were specific” and did not recognize Black women as victims.
This institutionalized rape of Black women, coupled with demeaning stereotypes formed centuries ago that persist to this day, have made a lasting impression on our society as a whole. This legacy has led to the minimization or rationalization of sexual violence when it is perpetrated against Black women, especially when perpetrated by acquaintances.
Russell Simmons: “I’m guilty of having underwritten, supported, made soundtracks for, taken advantage of and lived in a grossly unjust society. I helped write the song ‘I’m a Hoe,’ with Whodini. I made the movie How to be a Player and Bill Bellamy played me.”
FACT: Even today, evidence shows there is a double standard regarding Black women’s perception and treatment as victims of sexual violence.
For example, the penalties Black women’s assailants suffer are less severe than those of people who sexually assault white women: prosecutors filed charges in 75 percent of the cases in which a white woman was attacked, but when the victim was a Black woman, prosecutors filed charges just 34 percent of the time.
Additionally, Black women are stereotyped as promiscuous, even from a young age. A Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality study found that “adults often view Black girls as less innocent and more adult-like [than their white peers],” and that “negative stereotypes of Black women are mapped onto Black girls,” resulting in harsher treatment and a lack of empathy for Black girls.
[Russell, how many women have come forward at this point and accused you of sexual assault?] Russell Simmons: “Six or seven.”
FACT: Leading news publications point toward a pattern of predation, with at least 15 women alleging sexual misconduct at his hands.
The following is a timeline of allegations that have been published by leading news publications:
1983: Simmons allegedly rapes Sherri Hines:
In a 2017 interview with The Los Angeles Times, Hines states that Simmons raped her in 1983 at his office in New York. Hines told the Los Angeles Times: “The next thing I knew, he was pinning me down and I was trying to fight him, and he had his way…I left crying.”
1988-1989: Simmons allegedly assaults Lisa Kirk and rapes Toni Sallie:
In a 2017 interview with The Los Angeles Times, Lisa Kirk alleged that Simmons followed her into a nightclub bathroom circa 1988 and attempted to assault her.
Also in 2017, Toni Sallie told The New York Times that Simmons raped her in his Manhattan apartment in 1988. Sallie told the Times: “He pushed me on the bed and jumped on top of me, and physically attacked me. We were fighting. I said no.”
Sallie also told The New York Times that Simmons attacked her, grabbed her by the hair, and chased her into a women’s restroom at a music conference in 1989. The Times wrote: “to this day, Ms. Sallie said, ‘I don’t feel comfortable in a room full of men.’”
1990: Simmons allegedly rapes Alexia Norton Jones:
Jones told Variety that Simmons raped her in his Manhattan apartment in 1990. She stated: “It was such a fast attack. He pulled my dress up. I must have said no seven to 10 times.”
1991: Simmons allegedly rapes Keri Claussen Khalighi, Jenny Lumet, and Tina Baker:
Keri Claussen Khalighi told The Los Angeles Times that Simmons forcibly penetrated her and forced her to perform oral sex on him in 1991, when she was seventeen years old.
Jenny Lumet wrote in The Hollywood Reporter, alleging Simmons raped her in 1991. She wrote: “There is so much guilt, and so much shame. There is an excruciating internal reckoning. As a woman of color, I cannot express how wrenching it is to write this about a successful man of color.”
Tina Baker told The New York Times that Simmons raped her in 1991 when he was her manager. She told The Times: “I didn’t sing for almost a year.”
1994: Simmons allegedly rapes Sil Lai Abrams and sexually harasses Tanya Reid:
Abrams told The Hollywood Reporter that Simmons raped her in 1994. The day following the rape, she attempted suicide.
Reid told The Los Angeles Times that in 1994 she encountered Simmons at a hotel where she worked and he repeatedly called her and verbally harassed her. She said: “I remember this very, very clearly, the exact words he said on the phone. He wanted me to come upstairs so Brett could hold me down and he could [perform oral sex].”
1995: Simmons allegedly sexually harasses and rapes Drew Dixon:
Drew Dixon told The New York Times that while she was working as an executive assistant at Simmons’ Def Jam Recordings in 1995, Simmons would talk graphically about how she aroused him, ask her to sit on his lap at staff meetings, and regularly expose his erect penis to her. That same year, Dixon alleges that Simmons raped her in his Manhattan apartment.
1996: Simmons allegedly attempts to rape Natashia Williams-Blach:
Williams-Blach told The Los Angeles Times that in 1996, after taking her to a yoga class, Simmons attempted to force her to perform oral sex on him.
2005: Simmons allegedly exposes himself to Erin Beattie:
Beattie, a massage therapist, told The Los Angeles Times that while giving Simmons a massage in 2005, he exposed himself to her and asked her to touch him.
2014: Simmons allegedly gropes Christina Moore:
Moore told The New York Times that Simmons groped her in Miami in 2014. She stated, “I felt assaulted.”
2016: Simmons allegedly rapes Jennifer Jarosik and sexually harasses Amanda Seales:
Seales told The Los Angeles Times that in 2016 Simmons “used vulgar language to ask if they had ever had sex” at a business meeting.
Russell Simmons: “I can never say that someone doesn’t feel victimized. I can tell you that I don’t feel that I victimized them.”
FACT: Most sexual abusers are repeat offenders.
Once a few stories became public, other women came forward to allege that Simmons committed sexual misconduct, ranging from harassment to attempted or completed rape. This fact does not diminish the victims’ credibility in any way.
Most rapists are repeat offenders: a survey of men whose self-reported sexual acts met legal definitions of rape or attempted rape, but whose actions went undetected by the criminal justice system, found that over 60 percent were repeat offenders against multiple victims or the same victim. Eighty percent of respondents admitted to raping women who were intoxicated by alcohol or drugs.
It’s not uncommon for one survivor to come forward first before others do: for all the aforementioned reasons, most victims will continue to doubt themselves and assume they will be doubted if they report, unless others come forward to make a complaint about someone.
And when sexual violence is perpetrated by Black men against Black women and girls, many factors — including the Black community’s fraught relationship with law enforcement and the criminal justice system — may make the victims hesitant to take any action that could potentially harm the perpetrator. In instances of sexual assault by an acquaintance, fear of retaliation by the perpetrator and the community they share with the victim also prevents disclosure.
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