Russell Simmons Steps Away From Companies After New Sexual Assault Allegation

Russell Simmons Steps Away From Companies After New Sexual Assault Allegation

In light of new sexual assault allegations, music and clothing entrepreneur Russell Simmons is stepping away from the companies he founded — he said he’ doesn’t want to become a distraction — so he can concentrate on his spiritual growth, including learning to listen.

Screenwriter Jenny Lumet, daughter of director Sidney Lumet, wrote an essay today for The Hollywood Reporter, where she shared terrifying details of how Simmons abducted and forced her to have sex with him in 1991 when she was 24.

Model Keri Claussen Khalighi was the first woman to publicly share an experience of sexual assault by Simmons. She wrote about it in a Nov. 19 article in the Los Angeles Times. Simmons denied it in a letter published Nov. 22 by The Hollywood Reporter.

Claussen Khalighi said Simmons raped her when she was 17 while director-producer Brett Ratner watched. Khalighi claims Simmons later apologized.

Lumet is an award-winning screenwriter (“Rachel Getting Married,” “The Mummy”) and the granddaughter of singer/activist Lena Horne.

A native of Queens, New York, Simmons co-founded Def Jam Records. He’s a prolific music and TV producer. His multimedia and non-media empire includes Rush Communications, several clothing lines and part ownership of Def Jam.

Lumet said in the Hollywood Reporter essay that the alleged incident happened when Simmons offered her a ride to her Manhattan apartment. Once she was inside the SUV, he locked doors and windows:

“I recall the driver opening the door from the outside, and you behind me. I was between the two of you. Not wedged, just in the space between you. I remember exchanging a look with the driver. He was unreadable.  It was chilly out.  It was me and these two men.”

Simmons took her to his place, despite her repeatedly asking to be taken home, TMZ reported:

“She claims he first forced himself on her in his elevator, and then once inside his place … he took her to the bedroom and raped her. Jenny told The Hollywood Reporter, “I made the trade in my mind. I thought, ‘just keep him calm and you’ll get home.’ Maybe another person would have thought differently, or not made the trade.”

In a letter that began, “Dear Russell,” Lumet detailed the experience. She said she made up her mind she was going to survive it. She has since built a career and a reputation in her industry. She said she expects to lose income from coming forward with her story, and it pains her to have people visualizing her this way.

“I realize how privileged I am to be able to risk that. I have children. I’m aware that every mistake, act of thoughtlessness, hypocrisy or cruelty I’ve committed in my 50 years will be excavated, and they’ll see all of it.

“There is so much guilt, and so much shame. There is an excruciating internal reckoning. As a woman of color, I cannot express how wrenching it is to write this about a successful man of color. Again, shame about who I was years ago, choices made years ago. In this very moment, I feel a pang to protect your daughters. I don’t think you are inclined to protect mine.”

In the same Hollywood Reporter article, Simmons responded to Lumet’s essay saying he remembers the evening differently, but acknowledging that Lumet’s “feelings of fear and intimidation are real.” He apologized saying he’s “been thoughtless and insensitive in some of my relationships over many decades.” He said he would step down from his companies.

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This is Simmons’ full statement, according to The Hollywood Reporter:

“I have been informed with great anguish of Jenny Lumet’s recollection about our night together in 1991. I know Jenny and her family and have seen her several times over the years since the evening she described. While her memory of that evening is very different from mine, it is now clear to me that her feelings of fear and intimidation are real. While I have never been violent, I have been thoughtless and insensitive in some of my relationships over many decades and I sincerely apologize.

This is a time of great transition. The voices of the voiceless, those who have been hurt or shamed, deserve and need to be heard. As the corridors of power inevitably make way for a new generation, I don’t want to be a distraction so I am removing myself from the businesses that I founded. The companies will now be run by a new and diverse generation of extraordinary executives who are moving the culture and consciousness forward. I will convert the studio for yogic science into a not-for-profit center of learning and healing. As for me, I will step aside and commit myself to continuing my personal growth, spiritual learning and above all to listening.”

Russell SimmonsIllustration: CNN Money