Reese Witherspoon reveals that she was sexually assaulted by a director at 16

Reese Witherspoon reveals that she was sexually assaulted by a director at 16

Reese Witherspoon has added her name to the long list of women coming out against sexual harassment in the film industry, following the many allegations directed at producer Harvey Weinstein in recent weeks.

In a speech she made at Elle's Women In Hollywood event this week, she revealed that she has had "multiple experiences of harassment and sexual assault" throughout her career. Before introducing her Big Little Lies co-star Laura Dern at the event, her speech touched on issues of sexism within the industry before Witherspoon revealed she had been assaulted by a director when she was only 16-years-old.

"This has been a really hard week for women in Hollywood," she said, "for women all over the world, for men in a lot of situations and a lot of industries that are forced to remember and relive a lot of ugly truths." She then went on to speak about her own personal experiences with harassment and assault, and how the recent statements made by other women have given her strength;

"I have my own experiences that have come back to me very vividly, and I found it really hard to sleep, hard to think, hard to communicate. A lot of the feelings I’ve been having about anxiety, about being honest, the guilt for not speaking up earlier or taking action.

"True disgust at the director who assaulted me when I was 16 years old and anger that I felt at the agents and the producers who made me feel that silence was a condition of my employment. And I wish I could tell you that 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, the things that we’re kind of told to sweep under the rug and not talk about, it’s made me want to speak up and speak up loudly because I felt less alone this week than I’ve ever felt in my entire career."

It isn't surprising to see the actress speak up for victims of sexual harassment and assault, as she has been involved with women's advocacy organisations, including serving as the honorary chair of the Avon Foundation, which focuses on breast cancer research and the prevention of domestic violence.

In 2016, she created Hello Sunshine along with media and tech industry executive Kerry Tucker, a production company with a focus on female-driven stories. So far the company has produced three films and one TV show, which includes the Oscar-nominated Wild (in which Witherspoon stars) and Gone Girl.

"For the young women sitting in this room, life is going to be different for you because we have you, we have your back. And that makes me feel better because, gosh, it’s about time.

"And I just want to say, there’s a lot of people here who negotiate quite frequently with different companies and heads of companies, and I think maybe during your next negotiation, this is a really prudent time to ask important questions like:

"Who are your top female executives? Do those women have green-light power? How many women are on the board of your company? How many women are in a key position of decision-making at your company? Asking questions like that, I found, it seems so obvious, but people don’t ask those questions."

"If we can raise consciousness and really help create change, that’s what’s going to change this industry and change society," she said to the audience, "So I’m so sad that I have to talk about these issues, but it would be, I would be remiss not to."

While seeing so many men and women report the harassment and instances of assault they have received from those in powerful positions in Hollywood, the positive note we can take from people like Reese Witherspoon is that we can continue this conversation and work to stamp out this kind of behaviour in the future.