The war on sexual harassment has been one of the most talked about topics of the past few years, with social movements like the #MeToo hashtag and the Harvey Weinstein scandal, encouraging more people than ever to come forward with their stories.
Victims of sexual harassment often feel like they cannot speak out against their attackers; however as the backlash against those who perpetrate inappropriate behaviour continues, some of the celebrity world’s best known faces are taking to social media and the stage to share their experiences in the hopes of inspiring others to take a stand.
These are the men and women in the spotlight who have spoken out and told their stories of how they were subjected to harassment and how it changed their lives.
The ‘Poker Face’ singer is known across the world for her bestselling albums, colourful live shows and creative costumes; however Lady Gaga (real name Stefani Germanotta) has used her massive platform to highlight the issues of sexual harassment in the music industry.
Gaga revealed in an interview with DJ Howard Stern that she was assaulted as a teenager by an older man and felt traumatized for many years. Gaga confessed she felt like the attack was in some way her fault, although later came to accept that it wasn’t. The singer went on to describe how harassment in the music industry was ‘the norm’ and something that was just ‘expected’.
The megastar famously gave a speech at the Elle Women in Hollywood event in 2018 when she took to the stage in a man’s style Marc Jacobs suit. Gaga said that it was time for her to ‘take the power back’ and finished by saying ‘today, I wear the pants.’
Former “Charmed” actress, Rose McGowan was one of the first actresses to speak out against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. In her memoir ‘Brave’ the actress recounted her experience of the now infamous producer inviting her to his hotel room to supposedly discuss her fledgling career. She alleges that Weinstein raped her and left her traumatised.
McGowan has since become an activist, speaking out at conferences and events about sexual harassment and supporting causes that seek to give victims of sexual attack a voice. Weinstein denied the claims, however in 1997 he reached a settlement with McGowan that the producer’s legal team stated was not an admission of guilt, but rather an attempt to avoid litigation.
Once one of the most prominent actors in Hollywood, star of ‘George of the Jungle’ and ‘The Mummy’ trilogy, Brendan Fraser dropped off the radar after the mid-2000s with movie offers seemingly drying up overnight. Although Fraser was dealing with marital issues at the time, the actor has since confessed he believes the decline in his career may have been the result of speaking out against a Hollywood executive who groped him at an event.
When he tried to speak to others in the industry about the incident he was told to laugh it off and take it ‘as a joke’ – something which he was uncomfortable with and which left him feeling depressed. Although he later received a letter of apology from the perpetrator, it did not actually admit to any wrongdoing. Fraser is just one of many actors who have felt that standing up against their harassers has had a detrimental effect on their careers.
Fortunately the actor has recently seen an upturn in luck after landing the part on DC’s “Doom Patrol” series in which he plays RobotMan.
She’s known for her kindness and generosity to both her fans and friends, so it may come as a surprise to know that global superstar and chat show host Ellen DeGeneres was once let down by the one person who should have been there for her.
When, as a teenager, Ellen was sexually abused by her step-father she was unable to speak about the incident to anyone. Later, when she was finally able to speak up about what had happened, she was shocked to find that even her own mother didn’t believe her.
The TV star told fellow show host David Letterman in an interview about how her stepfather touched her breasts under the pretence of checking for lumps after her mother was diagnosed with cancer. Fortunately Ellen’s mother later had a change of heart and admitted that ‘she lived with a lot of regret’. Ellen also confided with actress Busy Phillips on her own show stating that she could understand why so many people refuse to speak out.
As the yogurt-loving Sergeant Terry Jeffords in television series “Brooklyn Nine Nine”, action and comedy star Terry Crews gets to play the good guy who puts criminals behind bars. Unfortunately, as is the case with several men who spoke out about experiencing assault, Crews own experience was dismissed by many as either a lie or something blown out of proportion.
Speaking as part of the Me Too movement, Crews explained how he was intimately groped by a Hollywood executive at an event. Afterwards he was accused of fabricating the incident as he was ‘big and had muscles’ therefore meaning that it couldn’t possibly have happened.
Crews admitted he was afraid to say or do anything at the time as he did not want to face any negative repercussions. The actor has said that the experience has helped him to better understand why so many victims remain silent and are afraid to come forward. He hopes that by speaking about his experience he can encourage others to do the same.
Being the Queen of Pop comes with its drawbacks as well as its advantages. Madonna, the award winning artist behind classic hits like ‘Material Girl’ and ‘Like A Virgin’ has been both applauded and criticized in the past for her raunchy costumes and provocative shows. The singer has however, spoken out against the unacceptable levels of sexual harassment in the music industry.
As one of the longest lasting singers in the pop world, she described how, as a young artist starting her career, she was often asked to trade sex acts for favours such as having her records played on air, something which she refused to do. Madonna also had a run in with Harvey Weinstein who produced her 1991 tour documentary ‘In Bed with Madonna’.
Madonna described the attitude towards harassment in the industry as being ‘heinous and awful’ and warned fans that it still exists today.
It takes a huge amount of courage and inner strength to publicly come forward as a survivor of rape, especially as someone in the spotlight. There is probably nobody else in Hollywood who has done so as honestly and as vividly as actress Gabrielle Union.
In her book ‘We’re Going to Need More Wine’, Union recounts the harrowing story of how she was raped at gunpoint when she was a teenager working in a shoe store. The star of ‘Think like a Man’ was with a colleague when she was attacked by a man who had come in with the intention of robbing the store. He was later caught and sentenced to more than 30 years in prison for his crimes.
Union has described the reactions of law enforcement and rape treatment staff that helped her after the incident, saying that they were wonderful in her case but, unfortunately, many victims do not receive the same level of sympathy and kindness. She also stated that one of the key questions she is often asked is ‘what were you wearing?’ something that she says highlights the tendency for blame to be placed, at least partially, on the victim.
She’s arguably one of the most successful women in history, known for her impressive media empire and being the host of the most popular talk show of all time. Oprah Winfrey might be one of the richest people in the world now, but her start in life was anything but glamorous. During a troubled, unstable childhood, Winfrey was raped at the age of just nine years old. She was subjected to sexual abuse throughout her childhood that culminated in her getting pregnant at just 14 years old. Unfortunately, her son did not survive and she was later sent to live with her father who banned her from relationships.
She began her career in the media at 19 and has since amassed millions of adoring fans who admire her honesty and empathy. Known for her philanthropic work just as much for her television work, Winfrey founded the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa in 2007 and even teaches classes via satellite.
Oprah spoke about her sexual assault experiences at a lecture she presented in 2012 at Ball State University in Indiana. She told students that “Everybody has a story and your story is as equally as valuable and important as my story”.
An outspoken and prominent activist, former actress Alyssa Milano is better known these days for speaking out against sexual harassment and inequality via social media, than she is for her acting career. As one of the first women to draw global attention to the Me Too movement, Milano tweeted a request for anyone who had been a victim to use the hashtag to bring attention to the issue. The response was overwhelming.
Milano later described the wave of support and solidarity as ‘collective pain turning into collective power’. Thousands of women and men came forward to share their stories, prompting the actress to say “We’ve come really, really far, but I think we have a lot further to go.”
The actress, who rose to prominence featuring in hit shows like ‘Melrose Place’ and ‘My Name Is Earl’ confessed it took thirty years for her to speak out about her own experiences due to fear of being ridiculed. She has since encouraged other victims to share their stories in the hopes that people will start taking the problem more seriously.
In 2017 singer Taylor Swift was sued by a radio DJ who was fired from his job after an encounter with the superstar wherein he acted inappropriately towards her. Swift was quick to respond, counter suing the DJ for lifting her skirt up at a meet and greet event. Despite attempts to discredit and ruin the singer’s reputation, the jury awarded Swift the amount of $1 which was the amount she requested in damages.
The ‘Shake It Off’ singer said that the payout was ‘symbolic’ and went on to offer her support to anyone who had ever been disbelieved when attempting to bring their attackers to justice. Fans were quick to praise Taylor for her actions, posting pictures of themselves on social media holding up dollar bills to celebrate the singer’s victory.
Swift, who has since made several large donations to charitable causes supporting the victims of harassment and assault, addressed her fans a year after the incident and thanked them for their support.
It might come as a shock to some, but legendary movie icon Marilyn Monroe was actually one of the first actresses to publicly highlight the issue of sexual harassment in Hollywood all the way back in the 1950s.
Unfortunately, Marilyn’s efforts to speak out about what she described as ‘wolves’ in the film industry has since been mostly brushed under the carpet as she is better remembered for being the blonde bombshell in the white dress, than as an activist. The actress, who gave a brazen interview about the issue in 1953 as an up and coming star, would often warn new actresses to be careful.
Monroe was offered lavish gifts in return for sexual favours by Hollywood executives; something she refused but later found out was considered the ‘norm’. Monroe was once famously dropped from a movie contract, allegedly when she refused to go out on a studio exec’s yacht without his wife accompanying them.
Although her efforts may have gone unrecognised by many, Marilyn Monroe was a trail blazer when it came to exposing sexual harassment something for which many women today can be thankful.
Back in 2014 pop singer Kesha began a lawsuit against Dr Luke, a producer who managed the early years of her career. Kesha accused Dr Luke of bullying, gender based hate crimes and harassment – something which he denied and later countersued her for.
The singer, who sought release from her contract with the producer, was subjected to years of legal process which culminated in her being denied an injunction that would release her from the contract she so badly wanted out of.
Celebrities around the world were outraged by the decision and started using the hashtag #FreeKesha across social media. It was reported that Kesha was offered a settlement in return for stating publicly that the accusations of sexual harassment were a lie, something she refused to do. In 2016 Kesha decided to drop the case stating that she wanted to be able to move on with her life. Many people disagreed with the way the case was handled, with some calling it a failure of justice.