While Ellen DeGeneres is known for keeping it light and funny, the talk show host is sharing a very serious story in the hope that it might help empower others. During an interview for season two of David Letterman’s Netflix series My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, DeGeneres opened up about her stepfather sexually assaulting her when she was a teenager. After sharing details of the heartbreaking experience, DeGeneres added that she isn’t alone — far too many women have a similar experience but are too scared to come forward.
For DeGeneres, her troubling experience began after her parents divorced. She was 13 at the time, and her mother Betty DeGeneres went on to take another husband. “She remarried a very bad man, a very bad man,” DeGeneres recalled, elaborating on the insidious way her stepfather justified his abuse. “My mother had breast cancer right after they got married so she had her breast removed and they had a very sexual relationship, which was also very uncomfortable for me. And he told me when she was out of town that he felt a lump in her breast and needed to feel my breast and didn’t want to upset her but needed to feel mine.”
Sadly, it wasn’t an isolated incident. “Then he tries to do it again another time and then another time, he tries to break down my door and I kick my window out and ran because I knew it was going [to turn into] something,” said DeGeneres. She went on to explain that, like so many victims, she didn’t speak out because she was afraid she would hurt her loved ones — in particular, her mother. “I didn’t want to tell my mother because I was protecting her and I knew that it would ruin her happiness and she was happy with him even though he was a horrible man. I should never have protected her and I should have protected myself.”
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#EllenDeGeneres will be a guest on “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman “ this new season . . #DavidLetterman ’s interview series #MyNextGuestNeedsNoIntroduction will return to #Netflix for its second season May 31st. All six episodes of the new season will premiere at once, as opposed to Season One, which was released monthly. Each episode will feature #Letterman in conversation with a person he finds fascinating, though the Season Two lineup has yet to be announced.
When DeGeneres finally did work up the courage to tell her mother, her experience was met with disbelief. “I didn’t tell her for a few years and then I told her and she didn’t believe me and she stayed with him for 18 more years, and finally left him because he changed the story so many times,” DeGeneres shared. She did eventually find her voice and re-addressed the issue with Betty, who is now “apologetic.” Of the moment she told her mom how she really felt, DeGeneres said, “I kind of went, ‘I wish I would have been taken better care of. I wish you would have believed me.’”
Tragically, stories like DeGeneres’ occur all too frequently — and, as DeGeneres made a point to underscore, women all too often don’t feel empowered enough to use their voice to advocate for themselves. “What most women do, we just don’t feel like we have a voice. We just don’t feel like we’re worthy and we’re scared to have a voice, we’re scared to say no,” she said. “Part of it I blame, that first he really convinced me that he didn’t want to upset her and he really felt another lump and then when I didn’t let him the next time he kept taunting me.”
With that, DeGeneres echoed the prevailing sentiment of movements like #MeToo and Time’s Up, saying, “I like men, but there are so many, many that get away with so much. It is just time for us to have a voice, it’s time for us to have power.”
DeGeneres first publicly addressed her stepfather’s abuse back in 2005 during an interview with Allure. At that time, she described a specific incident involving him trying to break into her room. She climbed out of a window in order to escape. In recounting that incident to friends, DeGeneres admitted at the time, there were those who assumed there was a connection between her assault and her sexuality. “People I’ve confided in about this before say, ‘Oh, that’s why you’re a lesbian,’” she said. “But I was a lesbian way before that. My earliest memories are of being a lesbian.”
My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman season 2 premieres on Netflix Friday, May 31.
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).