Sexual assault is a difficult topic to breach. There’s the shock, shame and fear of not being believed. This might be why dozens of celebrities are bravely stepping forward and sharing their sexual assault stories in an effort to make the subject less taboo and easier to discuss.
Regardless if you’re a celebrity, college student or male, sexual violence, on average, affects more than 300,000 people a year, according to the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network. In fact, every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. Change starts with conversation. Here are the stories of 15 celebrity sexual assault survivors willing to open up the discussion.
At 19, the "Being Mary Jane" star was raped at gunpoint at a Payless shoe store where she worked. Years later, she opened up about the assault in response to the 2016 boycott of Nate Parker's "Birth of a Nation," which Union starred in. Viewers called for a boycott after a woman, who accused Parker of raping her while in college, committed suicide in 2012.
The situation led Union to tell her own story and explain that she understands why people chose not to see her film. "As a rape survivor and as an advocate, I cannot shy away from this responsibility because the conversation got difficult. I don't want to put myself above anyone's pain or triggers," she told Essence.
In an emotional Instagram post, "The Sisterhood of Traveling Pants" revealed that her ex-boyfriend sexually assaulted her in public while she was out at a club with some girlfriends. In the post, the actress wrote her ex (who was her boyfriend at the time) went up to her, reached under her skirt, grabbed her vagina and carried her out of the club as she kicked and screamed. The post was in response to a leaked "Access Hollywood" tape in which Donald Trump said his fame allowed him to "grab" women "by the pussy."
instagram / @amberrosetamblyn
In an interview with Essence, the actress said that, as a child, she was sexually assaulted by teenager who was caring for her at the time. She admitted that the experience led her to have a "commitment issue" when it came to relationships.
"He violated me,"she said. "I never told anybody; I just buried it as deeply as I could and kept people at an arm's distance."
instagram / @queenlatifah
When she was nine, the television host was raped by her cousin. Unfortunately, that wasn't the last time she was sexually assaulted either. Winfrey was sexually assaulted several times after, with one time, when she was 14, resulting in a pregnancy. Though she lost the baby soon after giving birth, Winfrey has been open about her experience and how it can help other survivors heal.
“Anybody who has been verbally abused or physically abused will spend a great deal of their life rebuilding their esteem,” she told the Irish Examiner. “Everybody has a story, and your story is as equally as valuable and important as my story.”
The "Vogue" singer had just moved to New York City from Michigan when she was raped at 19. In an interview with Howard Stern, the pop star revealed that she was on her way to dance class when the door was locked and she needed to use a payphone.
She asked a man on the street who gave her the money, but persuaded her to go to his car to use his phone. After the singer followed him, she was raped. In response to whether she reported the crime, Madonna said, "You've already been violated. It's just not worth it. It's too much humiliation."
In an essay for Cosmopolitan, the "90210" star (who played a rape survivor on the show), opened up about a time when a friend sexually assaulted her while she was sleeping. The assault occurred on one of McCord's first nights in Los Angeles, when she agreed to let a good friend crash in her apartment for the night.
"When I woke up, he was inside me," she wrote. "At first, I felt so disoriented and numb, I closed my eyes and pretended to be asleep. I wondered if I had done something to give him the wrong idea."
While on "The Wendy Williams Show," the "Scream Queens" star opened about how she was sexually abused as a 5-year-old by a female cousin. While Palmer admitted that her mother is "very sad" that the assault happened, the actress revealed that her abuser is still in her life and that their relationship is, surprisingly, "very normal."
"I think that's the weird thing about it. Often we can't name the things in our life because they happened so quickly and we often have no knowledge of what went on," she told Williams.
In a series of moving Instagram posts on Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the "Dirty Dancing" star revealed that her rapist was someone she was in a romantic relationship with. In a list of reasons why she never reported the assault, Breslin admitted that she was in shock, feared she wouldn't be believed and afraid of the pain she would put on her family.
She also said she was clinically diagnosed with PTSD and jumps when someone touches her unexpectedly. In ending her post, the actress emphasized that all sexual assault stories matter—reported or not.
During his #IAMSORRY performance art in 2014, when the actor sat silently in a room with a paper bag reading "I am not famous anymore" covering his head, Labeouf was raped by a female audience member. He told Dazed & Confused that the woman, whose boyfriend waited outside the installation, came in, whipped Labeouf's legs, stripped him of his clothing and raped him.
As the assault happened on Valentine's Day, the actor said his girlfriend was waiting outside to see him. "When she came in she asked for an explanation, and I couldn't speak, so we both sat with this unexplained trauma silently. It was painful," he said.
In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, the director opened up about several sexual assaults he experienced as a child. When he was five, while building a birdhouse with an adult male neighbor, the "Madea" creator said the man put his hands in his pants. A few years later, a male nurse a man Perry knew from sexually assaulted him by performing oral sex on him.
When he was 10, while at friend's house, his friend's mother told him to leave. As Perry tried to open the door, he realized it was locked which is when the mother, who was dressed in lingerie, put the keys inside her and told him to retrieve them. "This is so disgusting, you know, what these people did to this little boy," he told Winfrey.
instagram / @tylerperry