Betty DeGeneres, the mother of Ellen DeGeneres, is speaking out for the first time about her daughter’s claim that Betty did not believe her when Ellen said she was sexually assaulted by her late stepfather as a teen.
Ellen reveals details of the abuse and how it has affected her relationship with her mother in an emotional interview with David Letterman for an episode of his Netflix show, “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction,” which was released on Friday.
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Betty DeGeneres, 89, who has been a frequent guest on her daughter’s daytime talk show over the years, responded to Ellen’s interview with Letterman in an exclusive statement that was provided to NBC News through Ellen.
“I know now that one of the hardest things to do is speak up after being sexually abused,” Betty said. “I love my daughter, and I wish I had the capacity to listen to her when she told me what happened.
“I live with that regret, and I wouldn’t want that for any other parent. If someone in your life has the courage to speak out, please believe them.”
Ellen, 61, had previously opened up to Savannah Guthrie on TODAY in October about being sexually abused when she was a teen, but declined to go into detail at that time.
She reveals specifics in the interview with Letterman, saying that the abuse started when she was 15 after her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy. She said her stepfather used the information to sexually assault her.
“He told me when she was out of town that he’d felt a lump in her breast and needed to feel my breasts,” she told Letterman. “Anyway, he convinced me that he needs to feel my breasts and then he tries to do it again another time, and then another time.”
She eventually worked up the courage to tell her mother a few years later, but said she didn’t believe her.
“He said I was lying, and then she stayed with him,” she told Letterman. “So that made me really angry.”
Ellen also spoke about how that decision has affected her relationship with her mother to this day.
“I should never have protected her. I should have protected myself and I didn’t tell her for a few years and then I told her,” she said. “And then she didn't believe me, and then she stayed with him for 18 more years. And finally left him because he’d changed the story so many times.”
Ellen maintains a relationship with her mother, but acknowledges the difficulties.
“I didn’t really let it get to me. Until recently, I kind of went, ‘I wish I would have been better taken care of. I wish she would have believed me.’ And she’s apologetic, but, you know,” she said.
Ellen was initially prompted to first reveal her abuse during an episode of her show in October that aired after university professor Christine Blasey Ford testified before the Senate about sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Actress and talk show host Busy Philipps spoke on Ellen’s show about being inspired by Ford’s testimony to reveal she had been raped when she was 14, which resulted in DeGeneres speaking about her own traumatic experience.
She expanded on that revelation in her interview with Savannah a few days later.
“As a victim of sexual abuse, I am furious at people who don’t believe it and who say, ‘How do you not remember exactly what day it was?’” she said. “You don’t remember those things. What you remember is what happened to you, where you were and how you feel. That’s what you remember.”
Ellen is hoping to empower women by speaking out about her own experience.
“I like men,” she told Letterman. “But there are so many men that get away with so much, it is just time for us to have a voice. It’s time for us to have power.”