Survivor Stories and Celebrity Support Power the Rape Foundation’s Brunch

David Schwimmer, Angela Bassett and Eric McCormack - Getty - H 2019
Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images for The Rape Foundation

Angela Bassett, Eric McCormack, Elizabeth Olsen and David Schwimmer were among the stars who offered their support at the annual brunch.

In her opening remarks at the Rape Foundation’s annual brunch, host Angela Bassett pointed to a simple but potent quote that’s inscribed at the Rape Treatment Center’s garden at its headquarters in Santa Monica.

"Those who have the privilege to know, have the duty to act," Bassett said, before continuing, "And that means us. That’s why we’re all here today — to see, to hear, to learn and to never, never miss anything."

It was a message embraced by the scores of supporters who assembled for brunch atop a sprawling backyard soccer field at one of the lavish estates in Beverly Hills' Benedict Canyon neighborhood, all to raise funds for the Rape Treatment Center and Stuart House UCLA-Santa Monica Medical Center. 

"I wish we didn’t live in a world where sexual assault existed," Bassett added. "I wish they weren’t victims of such a heinous, life-altering crime. I wish we lived in a world where our children felt effortlessly protected, without any fear of someone violating or hurting them. But sadly that is not our reality. And with that, thank god for sanctuaries like the Rape Treatment Center and Stuart House."

Bassett recalled a recent Sunday afternoon visit to the Rape Treatment Center during which she revealed the potential for hope and healing in the wake of trauma. "You see firsthand the extraordinary, thoughtful consideration that is given to each and every detail in a rape victim’s care, and to the care of sexually abused children," she said. "The expertise, the compassion, the dedication to the work of very, very special people who find each and every day in life-affirming ways for victims who walk through their doors, with their guidance and with their support, so that they may emerge survivors by the time they leave. They are made to feel safe to tell their stories, no matter how difficult."

The afternoon — emceed by the Rape Foundation’s longtime supporters David Schwimmer (who’s also a member of the group’s board of directors) and Eric McCormack — provided a safe, supportive forum for several assault survivors to take the stage to tell their stories, introduced by the organization’s founder and director, Gail Abarbanel.

"I have friends who were victims of this kind of assault," Bassett told The Hollywood Reporter on the red carpet, recalling a harrowing moment of her own as a young girl when she woke up to discover a man that her single mother was dating fondling her while she slept. "Fortunately, it wasn’t a complete assault, it was fondling, but it was devastating enough for a child who’s 12 or 13. And thankfully to have a mother who could tell as soon as light broke that this happened and for her to expel him…. That she heard me, believed me, and did something about it was so empowering for me as a young teen, as a young woman."

The 9-1-1 star said she was raising her 13-year-old twin children with husband Courtney B. Vance, daughter Bronwyn and son Slater, to consider the potentials for danger and be respectful of others. "You just want them to be aware," Bassett said. "They’ll be in situations one day, and when a girl says no, both to him and to her, she means no."

Elizabeth Olsen has routinely volunteered at Stuart House since visiting there while researching an acting role. "Any time I’m unemployed, I love being able to go back to Stuart House and it’s incredible," she revealed, noting that her schedule often brings her into contact with several of the same young people being counseled there.

"You just get to become, hopefully, a happy part of their week while they’re seeking therapy and treatment," said Olsen. "You want them to enjoy the experience. And especially for the really young ones, you want them, while they’re dealing with something that no child should go through — and it’s beyond traumatic, that I could not comprehend — you just want them to feel like a kid…. I just feel very lucky that I’ve been doing this for a couple years now."

Olsen said Hollywood’s role in telling stories of sexual abuse in film and television, despite the sensitive nature of the topic, was critical in helping empower survivors to find their voice and take the actions that they need to in order to heal — and to prevent others from similar violations.

"Because it’s something that people don’t feel comfortable talking about, it’s something that people don’t really realize is systemic to generations," Olsen said. "And the more you can talk about it and educate…people will feel brave enough to speak up in whatever they’re seeing within their family or out in the world, and hopefully there would be a change that would break a cycle."

"When people can relate to something or feel like there’s someone else out there who’s experienced something and if it can help them talk, if it can help them understand, shed light on it, show the horror of it, expose it, I think all of those things are important," agreed Christina Hendricks, another longtime supporter of the cause.

"This is an organization that really speaks to me and I’ve been supporting it for quite a few years, and have introduced others, brought them to the treatment center so they could walk through and see the process," Hendricks added. "It’s really pretty extraordinary when you go through that process…. It’s very impactful. So it’s just an event that I feel very strongly about making sure is funded, and that people are aware of it, so I come each year."

Will & Grace star McCormack has been attending the event since its inception, compelled by the Rape Center’s ability to enact positive change. "I’ve always been so moved by how this organization started — that it was one woman calling up Norman Lear and saying, 'I can make a difference, we can make a difference.' And they have in such a huge way."

"Nothing breaks my heart more than somebody being raped, a child being raped, and having just everything that happens after that re-traumatizes them," said McCormack. "The whole idea that this organization is about justice, it’s about respect, it’s about empathy, and this particular event is about raising money. Awareness is good, but we got to walk away today with a big chunk of their cause for next year and that’s sort of become my contribution. I get up and badger people until they get this money."

McCormack also saw the power of storytelling when it comes to issues of sexual assault after his sitcom took a serious turn recently with an episode in which Debra Messing’s character, Grace, reveals she had been assaulted as a teen by her father’s closest friend.

"It’s a dialogue that can’t end because it’s not, you know, 'fashionable' this week," the actor explained. "We have to keep it going. We have to keep talking about the abuses of men…what is happening in terms of society and hyper-masculinity is a danger for this. You keep forgetting that for everyone who is going to get up there and speak today, it’s a man that raped them. And we have to remind our sons how important it is to respect women, and we have to remind children that they have to be careful. We have to protect them."