In 1991, Reese Witherspoon made her first on-screen debut as a starring role in “The Man in the Moon”. She later went on to become one of the biggest names in Hollywood, landing starring roles in Legally Blonde, Sweet Home Alabama, Cruel Intentions, American Psycho, Water for Elephants, Big Little Lies, The Morning Show, Little Fires Everywhere, and many, many more major productions. Despite her unmatched fame and success, Reese’s experiences with emotional, verbal, and sexual abuse show that instances of abuse truly do not discriminate.
“There's moments where you have to evaluate whether silence is going to be your only option - and at certain times that was our only option. But now is not that time.”
With the relatively recent uprising of the #MeToo movement, several celebrities have come forward with their own accounts of sexual misdemeanour within the Hollywood film, television, and music industry. Among those celebrities, Reese recounts two major life-changing experiences with abuse: one instance of sexual assault when she was 16 perpetuated by a director, and the other ongoing for years in a verbally and psychologically abusive relationship. She does not go into specific detail with either encounter, yet she has used her substantial platform to encourage others to speak out about these issues of abuse and trauma to remove the stigma and taboo around them.
“If we can raise consciousness and really help create change, that’s what’s going to change this industry and change society. So I’m so sad that I have to talk about these issues, but it would be, I would be remiss not to.”
In several interviews and speeches in which Reese discloses her past experiences, a common underlying theme is that “silence helps the tormentors, it doesn’t help the tormented”. For so many individuals, especially those who feel trapped in intimate partner violence relationships, silence seems necessary in order to stay afloat. Feelings of guilt, shame, and inferiority all play a role in exacerbating this silence. However, as Reese describes in her interview with Oprah (see below), she came forward when a “line was drawn in the sand”. Recognizing that the actions an abuser presents towards a victim is not a reflection of the victim, rather, it is a reflection of the abuser themselves is of utmost importance. Reaching out to a trusted family member, friend, teacher, or mental health professional allows feelings to be validated and can be the first step to allowing the individual to remove one's self from the abusive relationship. With survivors everywhere coming forward with their own stories of abuse, individuals worldwide who were once silenced have a support system larger than ever before to break this silence.
"For the young women sitting in this room, life is going to be different for you because we have you, we have your back. And that makes me feel better because, gosh, it’s about time."
Reese Witherspoon, ELLE's Women in Hollywood Event, 2017
What Reese's story shows us, is that abuse can manifest itself in many different ways, in different places, and across different mediums. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to individual situations of abuse, and although she lives a successful, seemingly-glamorous lifestyle, she has struggled with abuse and trauma in both her intimate and work relationships. Watch Reese's interview with Oprah where she discusses her firsthand experiences below!
Written By: Daphna