Russell Simmons is stepping down from his businesses after a new sexual assault claim.
In a guest column for The Hollywood Reporter, award-winning screenwriter Jenny Lumet, the daughter of filmmaker Sidney Lumet, detailed her disturbing encounter with the prolific music and TV producer, claiming he sexually violated her in 1991 when she was 24.
In response to her allegation, which came in the form of a letter addressed to Simmons, the co-founder of Def Jam Recordings said he is stepping down from his various businesses to “commit myself to continuing my personal growth, spiritual learning and above all to listening.”
In his statement, Simmons said, “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.”
He continued, “While I have never been violent, I have been thoughtless and insensitive in some of my relationships over many decades and I sincerely apologize.”
Calling this a time of “great transition,” Simmons said those who have been hurt or shamed deserve 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,” he said. “The companies will now be run by a new and diverse generation of extraordinary executives who are moving the culture and consciousness forward.”
Simmons said he will convert the studio for yogic science into a not-for-profit center of learning and healing. He added, “As for me, I will step aside and commit myself to continuing my personal growth, spiritual learning and above all to listening.”
In her account, Lumet said Simmons, whom she knew socially, flirted with her ever since she appeared in his 1985 movie Krush Groove, and one night, years later, he offered her a ride home from the New York City restaurant Indochine.
When she gave the driver her address, Simmons told the driver “No” two times. Then the doors locked, and Lumet said she didn’t recognize the man sitting next to her as the car took her to Simmons’ apartment instead of hers. “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,'” she wrote.
Lumet recalls the driver and Simmons escorting her from the car to a back entrance of the mogul’s apartment, and that he “used” his size to get her into the elevator. “Alone in the elevator, you pressed me into the corner with your body, your hands and your mouth,” she wrote in the letter. Despite her saying “Wait,” she says Simmons moved her to the bedroom and closed the door.
“At that point, I simply did what I was told,” she said. “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.”
Lumet said she never told anyone this story until the escalating stories of Harvey Weinstein spurred her to tell a friend on Oct. 27, weeks before the first public claims would be made against Simmons. The Los Angeles Times revealed accusations of Simmons teaming up with Hollywood director Brett Ratner, who is also facing several sexual harassment and assault claims, to allegedly assault women, and published an accusation of sexual assault and harassment by model Keri Claussen Khalighi in a Nov. 19 article. (Simmons penned a reply that Lumet quoted in her letter. “I have never committed any acts of aggression or violence in my life. I would never knowingly cause fear or harm to anyone,” he wrote, in part.)
“There is so much guilt, and so much shame. There is an excruciating internal reckoning,” wrote Lumet. “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.”