10 Celebrity Rape Survivors Who Are Empowering Others
Sometimes we forget that celebrities have suffered and survived, just like many of us.
Sometimes, we think we know celebrities because most of their lives play out in tabloids and on the screen during tumultuous moments in their lives. But the reality is that: we don't.They suffer, they strive, they overcome.
In the United States, more than three million reports of child abuse are reported every year. The United States has one of the worst of these records, according to ChildHelp, which says between four and seven children lose their lives to child abuse and neglect every day.
These stats, mixed with the latest revelation by Elijah Wood and other Hollywood experts, makes this a very real issue.
Here are 10 celebrities who are not only survivors of sexual abuse, but who are empowering voices against abusers and for the healing of victims.
1. Oprah Winfrey
In 1986, Oprah Winfrey opened up about being raped in her childhood on her talk show. The first time was by her 19-year-old cousin who was supposed to be her babysitter; she was nine years old. “He took me to an ice cream shop — blood still running down my leg — and bought me ice cream,” she recalled about the aftermath of the horrific incident during the David Letterman Distinguished Professional Lecture. And that wasn't the end of her troubles. She was phsyically abused by her mother, and from the age of 10 to 14, she had also been sexually abused by a family friend, her mother's boyfriend, and her uncle while in Milwaukee. “I grew up in an environment where children were seen and not heard,” she said. Her testimony is one of extraordinary triumph and courage.
2. Gabrielle Union
At 19 years old, Gabrielle Union was raped at gunpoint. The actress told her story of redemption on The View in 2014, admitting that she "hated feeling like a victim." Noting the politics of the situation, she also made it clear that she was "lucky" to have had the incident happen in an affluent neighborhood, where the police and crisis center were quick and able to respond. Union went on to sue the Payless ShoeSource franchise for negligence and claims it as the moment she decided to take her "power back." The incident occurred while working a summer job at one of its California locations.
Madonna also suffered a horrific moment of sexual abuse at the age of 19. Although she's known for being assertive now, the naive teen was admittedly too shaken up and embarrassed to tell the police. Her rape therefore was never reported. At the time, she had just moved from the midwest to the big city of New York. "I was saying, 'Hi' to people on the street like a dork," she told Howard Stern. One day, in need of help, she was out of money to make a call from the pay phone. A man she didn't know insisted she make as many calls needed from his home across the street. She blindly trusted him and went to his place, where the unfortunate incident took place.
Fantasia Burrino opened up about being raped at the age of 14 by a fellow classmate in her memoir Life is Not a Fairy Tale. In an exclusive interview with Oprah, she recalled: "I went home and threw away my clothes. I didn’t tell my mama because I thought she would say, ‘I told you so.’ I just laid on my bed, and I didn’t go to school for a couple of days," she said. "My mom came to me and said, ‘Something’s not right with you. I know that somebody put his hands on you.’ That’s when I knew I had her support," she continued. They reported the crime to authorities, but the incident discouraged Fantasia from returning to school. Her story of overcoming illiteracy, rape, and poverty is an empowering one that continues to inspire.
5. Tyler Perry
Tyler Perry's story of overcoming adversity is one often silenced, like many men who experience physical and sexual abuse. Perry, who came out on Oprah, shared with her the similarities of their "living hell" as children. Physically abused by his father, he also was raped by four other adults. "At some point, you have to be responsible for them," Perry said of the effects of the abuse. "What I started to do is untie the strings and chase them down to where they came from. And I was able to free myself and understand that even though these things happened to me, it was not me."
6. Mary J. Blige
During VH1's Behind The Music, Mary J. Blige opened up for the first time about being molested as a child. "When I was five years old I was molested... I remember feeling, literally right before it happened, I just could not believe that this person was going to do this to me," she revealed about the abuse from a family friend. "That thing followed me all my life," she continued. "The shame of thinking my molestation was my fault - it led me to believe I wasn't worth anything." Blige, who is celebrated for her testimony of overcoming drugs, alcohol addiction, and physical abuse -and speaking of it so openly in her powerful music- continues to advocate for self-love today. "When I stopped drinking, it was willpower," she said. "It was prayer."
7. Maya Angelou
The late and esteemed poet and writer, Maya Angelou, wrote of being raped by her mother's boyfriend when she was only eight years old in her respective autobiographies, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Gather Together in My Name. She was brave enough to tell her brother, who then told the rest of her family. The man was found guilty, but only spent one day in jail. He was found dead, however, four days after being released-- presumed, by Angelou, an act committed by her uncles. However, she had no idea what killed him at the time. Angelou became mute for five years after her abuser was murdered. “I thought, my voice killed him," she admitted. "I killed that man, because I told his name. And then I thought I would never speak again, because my voice would kill anyone …” Angelou credited a teacher with having encouraged and motivated her to speak again. The time in silence was one of great use, as she perfected her memory and her writing skills, and expanded her library with her love for books, escaping the real world.
8. Lady Gaga
When asked about her song "Swine," Lady Gaga revealed on the Howard Stern Show in 2014 that she had been raped at the age of 19 by a record producer twenty years her senior. It's the song that Gaga was performing during her infamous bull-riding and vomiting act at SWSX the same year. “The song is about rape," Gaga said. "The song is about demoralization. The song is about rage and fury and passion, and I had a lot of pain that I wanted to release. And I said to myself, ‘I want to sing this song while I’m ripping hard on a drum kit and then I want to get on a mechanical bull - which is probably one of the most demoralizing things that you can put a female on in her underwear - and I want this chick to throw up on me in front of the world," she continued. "So that I can tell them ‘You know what, you can never ever degrade me as much as I could degrade myself and look how beautiful it is when I do'."
9. Queen Latifah
Queen Latifah was in a whirldwind of regret and depression when she revealed to her therapist (the first person, ever) that she had been molested as a 5 year-old child. After losing her brother to a motorcycle accident (on a bike that she bought him), and her best friend to gun violence who nearly died in her arms, her life was headed south. Seeking help from a therapist, she revealed her truth for the first time and had an amazing awakening. "What set me free was looking at it from a different perspective," she said. "I was five, manipulated and afraid. You have to say something," she continued. "The power of those who perpetrate the abuse is your fear and your shame. And that's unacceptable." The Grammy-winning artist and Golden Globe-winning actress continues to inspire with her story.
10. Tori Amos
Tori Amos is another artist who has used her voice through music to tell her story of redemption and strength. Her song "Me And A Gun" is a story that details a rape she endured in her early 20s. Amos, who was playing small nightclubs at the time, offered a fan a ride home. He ended up revealing his gun to her in the vehicle, then kidnapping and raping her. Years later, she penned the song. "It's a song about brutality and invasion on the deepest level," she said. Tori had tucked away the memory of her rape for seven years, until she found herself in the movie theater watching Thelma and Louise. "People had to move away from me in the theater, just because I was, you know, sobbing. I was like a little wellspring sitting there." She wrote her powerful song with the hope in mind that it would help others heal from the trauma.