Media and film have been rocked by recent accusations of sexual assault, sexual misconduct, and sexual harassment from major names like Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Piven, Matt Lauer, Geraldo Rivera, Ben Affleck, Charlie Sheen, and Ed Westwick. Many have wondered aloud when the magnifying glass would shift toward other industries, specifically the music industry. Long-running whisper tales and pillow talk now seem primed to become full-blown scandals, and the first domino to fall is legendary hip-hop figure Russell Simmons.
Screenwriter Jenny Lumet accused the Def Jam Recordings cofounder of sexual misconduct in an essay for The Hollywood Reporter. Lumet—the daughter of director Sidney Lumet and granddaughter of modern music legend Lena Horne—gave the Los Angeles Times a vividly detailed account of a 1991 encounter with Simmons where he allegedly intimidated and pressured her into having sexual intercourse with him.
This is not the first allegation leveled at Simmons. Keri Claussen Khalighi, a former model, accused him of forcing himself on her when she was 17 in the presence of filmmaker Brett Ratner. Simmons vehemently denied the claims, saying that everything that happened between them in 1991 was consensual. Ratner claimed he couldn’t remember the incident in question.
In the wake of the latest accusation, Simmons took a leave of absence from several of his companies, stepping down from his roles in his businesses, including All Def Digital, film company Def Pictures, and yoga lifestyle brand Tantris. He also stepped away from his charity and philanthropic efforts.
Hip-hop has dealt with issues of misogyny and predatory behavior toward women since its inception, and there is no telling who will be next to face up to past indiscretions. Maybe this is an opportunity for artists and industry execs to step up, and own their shit, before they are called out. With reports that journalists are preparing to release full accounts of other peoples’ behavior in the rap world, we should be mindful of the pain and fear that survivors endure both when they are violated and when they speak up.