Russell Simmons, Accused of Sexual Assault, Steps Down from His Companies

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Russell Simmons released a statement yesterday declaring that he’s stepping down from his companies in the wake of a new sexual assault allegation by screenwriter Jenny Lumet, who in a guest column for The Hollywood Reporter accused the co-founder of Def Jam Recordings and Rush Communications of forcing her to have sex with him in a 1991 incident.

“I have been informed with great anguish of Jenny Lumet’s recollection about our night together in 1991,” reads the statement from Simmons. “I know Jenny and her family and have seen her several times over the years since the evening she described. While her memory of that evening is very different from mine, it is now clear to me that her feelings of fear and intimidation are real. While I have never been violent, I have been thoughtless and insensitive in some of my relationships over many decades and I sincerely and humbly apologize.”

In Lumet’s letter, she describes a night when Simmons encountered her at a restaurant she frequented and offered Lumet what she believed to be a ride home, which she accepted. Lumet says that after she got into the vehicle carrying Simmons (he had a driver), her request to be taken to her home in New York City was denied in favor of a trip to Simmons’ home, where she was pressured and forced into sex.

“I felt dread. I was tremuluous. Off my feet. I felt an intense need to keep both of you calm,” writes Lumet of her ride with Simmons and his driver. “Was there a time or a space to run? I have no idea. Would somebody else have run? I have no idea. There were two men. One of whom obeyed the other. It was an overwhelming feeling.”

Lumet worked with Simmons on the Rick Rubin-directed film Tougher Than Leather, starring Run-D.M.C. She’s most known for her screenplay for Rachel Getting Married, a film about a woman released from rehab who unearths generations of hurt within a family. In her column, Lumet writes that her “recalling of this incident” will hopefully be helpful to women in similar situations. Still, Lumet notes, her decision to come forward with her accusations comes with a price. “There is so much guilt, and so much shame. There is an excruciating internal reckoning,” she writes.

Simmons, in his statement, adds, “This is a time of great transition. The voices of the voiceless, those who have been hurt or shamed, deserve and need to be heard. As the corridors of power inevitably make way for a new generation, I don’t want to be a distraction so I am removing myself from the businesses that I founded. The companies will now be run by a new and diverse generation of extraordinary executives who are moving the culture and consciousness forward.”

Less than two weeks ago, Simmons was accused of sexual assault by Keri Claussen Khalighi, who says Simmons forced her to perform oral sex on him in the view of film producer Brett Ratner, who is also the subject of several sexual assault and misconduct allegations. In a statement, Simmons said that everything that happened between him and Khalighi on the 1991 night in question was “completely consensual.”