Russell Simmons, Def Jam founder, steps down after sexual assault allegations

Russell Simmons discusses 'Romeo Is Bleeding' at Build Studio on July 17, 2017 in New York City. Mireya Acierto/FilmMagic

Def Jam founder Russell Simmons announced Thursday that he is stepping down from his various leadership roles and companies after screenwriter Jenny Lumet accused him of sexually assaulting her in 1991.

In a guest column for The Hollywood Reporter, Lumet — the daughter of revered, late director Sidney Lumet — claimed that Simmons took her back to his apartment and sexually assaulted her.

She wrote the column directed at Simmons.

“You pursued me, lightly, on and off, over a course of years, saying you had a thing for a ‘little yellow girl’ (me),” she wrote. “I rebuffed. It wasn’t deep, as far as I knew. It was never a big deal.”

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On the night in question, she wrote that Simmons offered to give her a ride home, but instead, once in the car, ordered the driver to take them back to his place.

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“I felt dread and disorientation. I wanted to go home,” she wrote. “I said I wanted to go home. I didn’t recognize the man next to me. I didn’t know if the situation would turn violent. I remember thinking that I must be crazy; I remember hoping that the Russell I knew would return any moment.”

Lumet insists that she had no opportunity to escape; she was both mentally and physically shocked into subservience. Once alone with Simmons in the elevator, she alleges, he pushed his body against her and forced her into the corner.

From there, she wrote that he sexually assaulted her in his apartment, but doesn’t recall all the details. She claimed that “there was penetration” and she tried to “stay as contained as I could.”

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Lumet says she was prompted to speak out by Simmons’ denial earlier this month of a separate 1991 allegation of misconduct by another woman.

Shortly after the THR piece was published, Simmons issued a statement about the alleged assault.

“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,” Simmons wrote. “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.”

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“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,” he wrote. “The companies will now be run by a new and diverse generation of extraordinary executives who are moving the culture and consciousness forward … as for me, I will step aside and commit myself to continuing my personal growth, spiritual learning and above all to listening.”

This is the third allegation of sexual assault or impropriety against Simmons. Another woman, Keri Claussen Khalighi, accused Simmons and disgraced director Brett Ratner of conspiring to commit assault against her when she was only 17 years old. (Ratner has since left Warner Bros. after multiple sexual assault allegations.)

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A third woman, Tanya Reid, claims that Ratner and Simmons harassed her and pressured her to have sex with them.

Lumet wrote scripts for movies like The Mummy and Rachel Getting Married. Her father was nominated for five Oscars and won an honorary one in 2005.

With files from The Associated Press

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