Facing a new sexual assault allegation, entrepreneur and producer Russell Simmons announced Thursday that he is stepping down from the Def Jam empire he helped found — joining an ever-growing list of celebrities like Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and Matt Lauer who have become engulfed in sexual misconduct scandals.
The exit comes after Rachel Getting Married screenwriter Jenny Lumet, 50, penned a guest column in The Hollywood Reporter Thursday morning claiming Simmons assaulted her in 1991.
Simmons issued a statement soon after, saying in part: “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.”
The alleged incident occurred after Simmons saw a then-24-year-old Lumet out at a restaurant and offered her a ride home to her Manhattan apartment. Knowing Simmons for years through mutual friends and a previous working experience, Lumet accepted his offer — though once inside his car she claims he locked the SUV doors and took her to his place, telling her “no” when she requested to be taken home. Upon arrival, she says the driver of Simmons car wedged her between Simmons so she could not escape.
“I felt dread,” Lumet wrote in THR. “I was tremulous. Off my feet. I felt an intense need to keep both of you calm. 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.”
“You didn’t punch me, drag me or verbally threaten me,” she continued. “You used your size to maneuver me, quickly, into the elevator. I said, ‘Wait. Wait.’ I felt dread. I was very, very sad.”
Once inside the elevator, she writes, “you pressed me into the corner with your body, your hands and your mouth.” She went on to claim he assaulted her in his apartment, penetrating her after she told him to “wait.”
“I made the trade in my mind. I thought, ‘Just keep him calm and you’ll get home.’ Maybe another person would have thought differently, or not made the trade,” she said. “At that point, I simply did what I was told…. I desperately wanted to keep the situation from escalating. I wanted you to feel that I was not going to be difficult. I wanted to stay as contained as I could.”
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After the alleged incident, Lumet said she continued to encounter Simmons at various events including the 2005 Academy Awards, where her father, director Sidney Lumet, was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award. “I strove for an affect of normalcy,” she said. “I never said anything to you about that night. You have never said anything to me.”
“There is so much guilt, and so much shame.,” she added. “There is an excruciating internal reckoning. As a woman of color, I cannot express how wrenching it is to write this about a successful man of color. Again, shame about who I was years ago, choices made years ago. In this very moment, I feel a pang to protect your daughters. I don’t think you are inclined to protect mine.”
Simmons responded to the allegations in his statement released to THR in the wake of the explosive guest column.
“I have been informed with great anguish of Jenny Lumet’s recollection about our night together in 1991. 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.”
Reps for Simmons did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
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Lumet isn’t the first woman to make claims against Simmons. Earlier this month, former model Keri Claussen Khalighi accused him of sexually assaulting her when she was just 17 years old. She also implicated Brett Ratner by claiming that the director lured her to his apartment for the purposes of Simmons having sex with her, and refused to assist her when she asked for help. The incident is said to have happened in 1991, around the same time of Lumet’s alleged encounter.
Earlier this month, Variety also reported that Simmons and Ratner had been investigated for sexual battery in 2001, although charges were never filed due to insufficient evidence.
While both men have denied the allegations, Simmons did acknowledge to The Hollywood Reporter on Thursday that “this is a time of great transition” while supporting victims who speak and promising to convert a studio he founded for the yogic science into a learning and healing non-for-profit center.