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Reese Witherspoon reveals she was assaulted by a director at age 16

In the wake of mounting harassment and assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein, women in Hollywood are sharing their own experiences.
/ Source: TODAY

In the wake of mounting harassment and sexual assault allegations against filmmaker Harvey Weinstein, women in Hollywood and beyond have joined the #metoo movement, sharing their experiences with behind-the-scenes abuse.

The latest actress to open up about her own history is Reese Witherspoon.

At Elle's Women in Hollywood event Monday night, the star revealed what happened to her and delivered a powerful message about the importance of shining a light on a topic that has stayed in the dark for far too long.

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"This has been a really hard week for women in Hollywood, for women all over the world, for men in a lot of situations and a lot of industries that are forced to remember and relive a lot of ugly truths,” the actress, producer and entrepreneur said at the event. "I have my own experiences that have come back to me very vividly, and I found it really hard to sleep, hard to think, hard to communicate a lot of the feelings I’ve been having about anxiety, about being honest, the guilt for not speaking up earlier."

That's when Witherspoon told the audience that she became a victim of a predatory filmmaker when she was just teen.

Reese Witherspoon speaks onstage during ELLE's 24th Annual Women in Hollywood Celebration at Four Seasons Hotel on October 16, 2017, in Los Angeles, California.Frazer Harrison / Getty Images

She recalled her feelings of "true disgust at the director who assaulted me when I was 16 years old and anger that I felt at the agents and the producers who made me feel that silence was a condition of my employment."

And then she added the most disturbing detail of all — that her first encounter with abuse in the industry was by no means her last.

"I wish that I could tell you that was an isolated incident in my career, but sadly it wasn’t," she said. "I’ve had multiple experiences of harassment and sexual assault, and I don’t speak about them very often."

But now that others are coming out with their own stories of assault, harassment and exploitation — including, most recently, America Ferrera, Martha Stewart and Jennifer Lawrence — Witherspoon feels empowered.

Frazer Harrison / Getty Images

"After hearing all the stories these past few days, and hearing these brave women speak up about things that we’re kind of told to sweep under the rug and not to talk about, it’s made me want to speak up and speak up loudly — because I actually felt less alone this week than I have ever felt in my entire career."

It's that last uplifting point that's so important to her, that those who are making their voices heard now will pave the way so that others will never be silenced.

"I feel really, really encouraged that there will be a new normal," she said. "For the young women in this room, life is going to be different because we’re with you, we have your back and it makes me feel better."