Remember the controversy and boycott of Russell Simmons over the Harriet Tubman “sex tape” comedy skit? That is nothing beside the accusations of sexual assault that Simmons now faces.
His second accuser, screenwriter Jenny Lumet, has written in extensive detail about what she says that Simmons did to her. It sounds like sexual assault. It also sounds like kidnapping.
Russell Simmons’ response has been to step down from his businesses.
Russell Simmons is a music mogul.
When, on November 19th, model Keri Claussen Khalighi accused him of sexual assault and harassment when she was only 17 years old.
At the time of the accusation, Russell Simmons denied it, saying that such behavior was something that he wholeheartedly opposed.
That denial clearly loomed large in the mind of Jenny Lumet.
Writing in The Hollywood Reporter, Jenny Lumet describes a sexual assault by Russell Simmons after they had known each other for years.
In the form of an open letter directed at Simmons, she describes how the two of them met in 1987 and remained in the same social circles for years.
“You pursued me, lightly, on and off, over a course of years, saying you had a thing for a “little yellow girl” (me). I rebuffed. It wasn’t deep, as far as I knew. It was never a big deal. You had, I assumed, many women in your orbit.”
The incident in question, she says, happened “circa 1991,” when she was around 24. She remembers a lot of very specific details about how she was dressed, why she was at the restaurant where she ate, and what the weather was like.
(Traumatic memories can often include a lot of sensory details, no matter how badly the person wants to forget)
“You had a car and a driver that evening. Sometime later, you offered me a ride to my home. I said, ‘Sure.’ During the making of the RUN DMC movie, I had been in vans with you and other crew members. I don’t recall having accepted a ride home alone with you before that night.”
And, in case it’s stating the obvious, she was only accepting a ride home. Nothing more.
“At no time that night did I say: ‘Russell, I will go home with you,’ or ‘Come home with me,’ or ‘I will have sex with you’ or ‘I have the desire to have sex with you.'”
And … this is when the story starts to get scary.
“I got into the car with you. The driver began to drive. I assumed you knew where I lived, because you had sent me 250 balloons, but I gave the driver my address on 19th Street and 2nd Avenue.”
She refers to a gift, which she found funny at the time, of many balloons.
“You said to the driver: ‘No.’ I didn’t understand, so I said: ‘Russell?’ I said, again, to the driver: ’19th Street.’ Again you said to the driver: ‘No.'”
That is absolutely chilling.
“Then the car doors locked. It was loud. The noise made me jump.”
Any noise can evoke that response when your fear response kicks in.
“I didn’t recognize you at that moment. It was disorienting. It was disorienting. I say it twice now because you said ‘No’ twice then.”
“I couldn’t open the doors. I couldn’t open the windows. The car was moving. The driver did not stop. He did not take me to 19th Street. He took me to your apartment.”
Even if the legal system can’t hold anyone accountable for this nightmare of a 1991 evening, we can’t help but wonder what became of this driver who is also described as an accomplice.
“I didn’t try to kick the windows out. I didn’t punch or kick. I didn’t say, ‘What are you doing?’ My voice left me after the second ‘No.'”
This is a survival mechanism. People talk about fight-or-flight, but still and silent is another reaction to danger.
“I felt dread and disorientation. I wanted to go home. I said I wanted to go home. I didn’t recognize the man next to me. I didn’t know if the situation would turn violent.”
This is why so many survivors of sexual assault don’t try to fight back. They don’t want to make a bad situation worse. They don’t want to die.
“I remember thinking that I must be crazy. I remember hoping that the Russell I knew would return any moment.”
She speaks of Simmons and his driver both maneuvering her into what may have been a private entrance to his room.
“You didn’t punch me, drag me, or verbally threaten me. You used your size to maneuver me, quickly, into the elevator. I said, ‘Wait. Wait.'”
We can only imagine her terror in those moments.
“I felt dread. I was very, very sad. I didn’t know if the driver was a further threat, or an ally. I was both relieved and terrified when he did not get into the elevator. Alone in the elevator, you pressed me into the corner with your body, your hands, and your mouth.”
“The elevator did not stop on the way up to your apartment. I was moved very quickly inside. I recall hearing the apartment door closing behind us.”
And this is where it escalates even further.
“You moved me into a bedroom. I said, ‘Wait.’ You said nothing. 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.”
Do you risk your life or do you just try to get out alive? There are no good options.
“It was dark but not pitch-dark. You closed the door. At that point, I simply did what I was told.”
And there are some details from the alleged assault, which she describes:
“There was penetration. At one point you were only semi-erect and appeared frustrated. Angry? I remember being afraid that you would deem that my fault and become violent. I did not know if you were angry, but I was afraid that you were.”
And further details, though it’s clear that at the forefront of her mind was fear.
“You told me to turn over on my stomach. You said something about a part of my body. You did not ejaculate inside me.”
She was able to leave after that and she took a taxi.
She did not tell anyone, and even saw him again — they had many mutual friends — for years afterwards. She says that she told a childhood friend in October, after the Weinstein scandal was really catching attention.
Russell Simmons has announced that he’s stepping back from his businesses. He says:
“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.”
if we hadn’t just read Jenny Lumet’s words, we might be tempted to applaud Russell Simmons for acknowledging her feelings.
But, no, not after what we just read. We can only imagine how difficult it was for Jenny to come forward, even with the cultural movement towards exposing predators.
Russell Simmons is a 60-year-old man whose net worth is something in the neighborhood of $ 350 million. Stepping back from his businesses, now, isn’t some sort of self-imposed punishment.
We don’t know how many more women will come forward with similar accusations towards Russell Simmons. Perhaps some will remain silent, satisfied that he’s acknowledged something. It’s not easy to relive your pain.
But, based upon Lumet’s allegations, based upon her story of a driver who apparently already knew what to do in order to usher her to the elevator … we would not be surprised if other women come forward with their memories.