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Girls & Women

Actress Lupita Nyong’o Shares Her Weinstein Story and Calls on Everyone to Break Their Silence

Mary Kang for Global Citizen

On Thursday, Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o added her name to the long — and still growing — list of women accusing film producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment of assault. 

Nyong’o joined actresses like Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow, and “Game of Thrones” star Lena Headey who have also come forward with their experiences since the New York Times published an investigative report on Oct. 5 that revealed the Hollywood giant’s sexual misconduct over decades. 

The “12 Years a Slave” actress, who joined Global Citizen as a host at this year’s festival, penned an op-ed in the New York Times detailing a series of encounters with Weinstein, beginning when she was a student at the Yale School of Drama.

“I had shelved my experience with Harvey far in the recesses of my mind, joining in the conspiracy of silence that has allowed this predator to prowl for so many years,” she said. “I had felt very much alone when these things happened, and I had blamed myself for a lot of it, quite like many of the other women who have shared their stories.”

Take Action: Tell World Leaders to Redouble Their Efforts By Amending Laws to Prevent Sexual Violence

Since the New York Times’ story broke, more than 40 women have come forward with sexual assault and harassment allegations against Weinstein.

“Now that this is being discussed openly, I have not been able to avoid the memories resurfacing,” Nyong’o said. “I have felt such a flare of rage that the experience I recount below was not a unique incident with me, but rather part of a sinister pattern of behavior.”

Like many other women, Weinstein convinced Nyong’o to join him alone in a bedroom under the guise of work. The actress describes Weinstein’s advances and her panic. When Weinstein asked to give her a massage, Nyong’o, thinking she would have more control over the situation if she could see his hands, offered instead to give him one.

As in many other stories that have come to light in the last two weeks, Weinstein attempted to remove his clothes and escalate the situation.

Nyong’o managed to extricate herself from the situation, but it was not the last time Weinstein would attempt to be alone with her.

In the op-ed, Nyong’o gives insight into her thought process — thoughts that will be familiar to many that have experienced sexual harassment. Nyong’o describes trying to come up with explanations and justifications for Weinstein’s actions, downplaying her encounters with him even in her own mind.

“He was definitely a bully, but he could be really charming, which was disarming and confusing,” she said.

“I share all of this now because I know now what I did not know then. I was part of a growing community of women who were secretly dealing with harassment by Harvey Weinstein,” Nyong’o wrote.

“I also did not know that there was a world in which anybody would care about my experience with him...I did not know that things could change,” she continued.

“I did not know that anybody wanted things to change.”

Her comments point to a culture that often silences victims of sexual harassment and assault. In the US, two out of three incidents of sexual assaults go unreported, according to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network. And women who report sexual assault and rape in the US are often met with criticism and doubt, which may discourage them from speaking out about their experiences. Recounting incidents of sexual harassment and assault can be traumatic and can seem pointless, particularly if the victim does not expect the perpetrator to be brought to justice, or anticipates being disbelieved.

Read more: Actress Amber Tamblyn Says We Need to Stop Questioning Women’s Sexual Assault Stories

“I hope we can form a community where a woman can speak up about abuse and not suffer another abuse by not being believed and instead being ridiculed,” Nyong’o said. “That’s why we don’t speak up — for fear of suffering twice, and for fear of being labeled and characterized by our moment of powerlessness."

When sexual assault or harassment occurs in the workplace, speaking out could mean losing your job — and in the case of Weinstein’s victims, having your career ruined.

But this isn’t just a Hollywood or Harvey Weinstein problem.

More than 800,000 women tweeted messages and stories of harassment and assault — especially in the workplace — using the hashtag #MeToo this week. On Facebook, there have been more than 12 million “Me too” posts, comments, and reactions, the company told CNN

Read more: After More Than 500K Women Tweeted #MeToo, Men Are Responding With 4 Words

Global Citizen campaigns for gender equality and the elimination of discrimination. You can take action to support the rights of girls and women around the world here.

“Now that we are speaking, let us never shut up about this kind of thing,” Nyong’o said. “I speak up to make certain that this is not the kind of misconduct that deserves a second chance. I speak up to contribute to the end of the conspiracy of silence.”