Reese Witherspoon Reveals She Was First Sexually Assaulted in Hollywood at Age 16

"I wish I could tell you that was an isolated incident in my career, but sadly it wasn't," the actress says at ELLE's Women in Hollywood event

By Zach Johnson Oct 17, 2017 11:55 AMTags

Reese Witherspoon, too, has experienced sexual harassment and assault in Hollywood.

Like many honorees at the ELLE Women in Hollywood event, the 41-year-old actress referenced the sexual misconduct allegations against Harvey Weinstein. "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," Witherspoon said during her acceptance speech at the Beverly Hilton Monday. "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...[and] 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," said Witherspoon, whose 18-year-old daughter Ava Phillippe was in the audience. "And I wish 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."

Elle Women in Hollywood Awards 2017
Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for ELLE

"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," Witherspoon continued. In fact, the Big Little Lies star said, "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 sad to talk about these issues, but I would be remiss not to."

(Editor-in-chief Nina García and publisher Kevin O'Malley hosted the 24th annual event with presenting sponsors L'Oréal Paris and "Real Is Rare. Real Is a Diamond." and supporting sponsor Calvin Klein. Other ELLE honorees included Margot Robbie, Tessa Thompson and Cicely Tyson.)

Elle's 2017 Women in Hollywood Issue

Several other actresses, including Jennifer Lawrence and Riley Keough, joined Witherspoon in sharing their own stories of sexual harassment in Hollywood. When Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy took the stage, the producer said she wants to implement "zero tolerance policies for abusive behavior," as well as create "a secure, reliable, unimpeachable system in which victims of abuse can report what's happened to them with a confident expectation that action will be taken, without placing their employment, reputations and careers at risk." To do so, Kennedy proposed convening a commission that "should be fully funded by our industry in order to address the task at hand in a thoroughgoing, comprehensive fashion. The goal of this commission would be to transform our industry in regards to sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace." Guilds, studios, talent agencies and unions should "immediately" begin "developing new, industry-wide protections against sexual harassment and abuse," she added.

Lawrence supports Kennedy's proposition, promising, "If we build this commission, this community of support where anyone can come to us and ask questions, I will give my all to it."

Recently, multiple women accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct in The New York Times and The New Yorker, and in the aftermath, dozens of women have described their encounters with the movie mogul—including Rosanna Arquette, Cara Delevingne, Eva Green, Angelina Jolie, Ashley Judd, Minka Kelly, Rose McGowan, Gwyneth Paltrow, Léa Seydoux and Mira Sorvino.

In a statement to E! News, Weinstein's attorney, Charles J. Harder, said The New York Times' article by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey is "saturated with false and defamatory statements;" The New York Times stands by Kantor and Twoehy's reporting, a newspaper spokesperson said. In response to the allegations made against Weinstein in Ronan Farrow's New Yorker article, a rep said, "...Any allegations of non-consensual sex are unequivocally denied by Mr. Weinstein."

—Reporting by Amanda Williams