Reese Witherspoon has spoken out about sexual harassment and assault in Hollywood, revealing she was just 16 when it happened to her for the first – but not the last – time.
The actress, 41, reflected on women’s experiences in the film industry in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against Harvey Weinstein during her speech at the Elle Women in Hollywood event sponsored by Calvin Klein and L’Oréal Paris on Monday night.
“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,” the Oscar winner said at the event held at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. “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.”
“[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,” she added. “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.”
“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.”
She added, “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.”
“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,” Witherspoon concluded.
Witherspoon’s comments come after dozens of women came forward in recent weeks to accuse Weinstein of sexual misconduct — including Cara Delevingne, Ashley Judd, and Angelina Jolie. Eight women spoke out against Weinstein in a bombshell New York Times report accusing the movie mogul of inappropriate behavior. The paper also reported that Weinstein reached private settlements with eight women, including actress Rose McGowan.
Following the initial report, Weinstein said in a statement that he was working with therapists and planned to “deal with this issue head-on.” He has since been fired from his powerhouse studio, The Weinstein Company, and his wife, Marchesa designer Georgina Chapman, has announced she’s leaving him.
In addition, the The New Yorker revealed — among 13 different women’s accounts of alleged sexual harassment, assault or rape — that Weinstein allegedly forcibly performed oral sex on Italian actress Asia Argento two decades ago.
In response to the lengthy allegations made against Weinstein in the New Yorker piece, a spokesperson for Weinstein said, “Any allegations of non-consensual sex are unequivocally denied by Mr. Weinstein.”
This article originally appeared in People.com