Jenny Lumet, a screenwriter best known for her work on Rachel Getting Married, published a searing open letter in the Hollywood Reporter on Thursday alleging that entrepreneur and music mogul Russell Simmons sexually violated her in the early ’90s. In response to her letter, Simmons has announced that he will be stepping down from his various companies. Earlier this month, model Keri Claussen Khalighi accused Simmons of sexually assaulting her while Brett Ratner watched when she was just 17 years old. Tanya Reid, a former aspiring model, accused Ratner of sexual assault and Simmons of pressuring her to perform sex acts with the pair, a conversation Simmons said he didn’t recall.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, Lumet was driven to write her letter following Simmons’s denial of Khalighi’s claims. Lumet says she met Simmons in 1987, and that he pursued her over the years but that “it was never a big deal.” But one night in 1991, she writes, when she was 24, Simmons offered her a ride home; when she gave his driver her address, Simmons allegedly rebuffed her repeatedly and took her to his own apartment.
Then, the car doors locked. It was loud. The noise made me jump.
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.
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”.
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. I remember thinking that I must be crazy; I remember hoping that the Russell I knew would return any moment.
In the excerpt below, Lumet describes being sexually assaulted by Simmons.
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.
It was dark, but not pitch dark. You closed the door.
At that point, I simply did what I was told.
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.
I desperately wanted to keep the situation from escalating. I wanted you to feel that I was not going to be difficult. I wanted to stay as contained as I could.
Lumet’s letter is wrenching from start to finish, illustrating how incredibly painful and complicated and frightening it actually is to come forward with this kind of story.
“There is so much guilt, and so much shame,” she writes. “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 response to the letter, Simmons wrote:
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.