While the news media has seen a rash of big names come crashing down due to sexual harassment or allegations of “inappropriate activity” this time, the name at the top of the list is music mogul Russell Simmons.
Simmons is left to redirect his career and reputation since stepping down from his multiple media companies after being publicly accused of sexual assault. The founder of Def Jam Recordings and CEO of Rush Communications, Simmons is widely considered to be the godfather of modern R&B and rap music. Now, though, he is just one more big name accused of unseemly behavior.
A report surfaced recently that screenwriter Jenny Lumet accused Simmons of “forcing her to have sex” back in 1991. Her account was published in The Hollywood Reporter, a publication that has been heavily reporting on various unwanted sex allegations in recent weeks.
In a statement, Simmons says his memory of the event was different than Lumet’s. “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.”
Simmons’ statement here is interesting. While he does not admit guilt, he does admit his actions have been “thoughtless and insensitive.” This is not how one would describe rape, which is what he is really being accused of. Unless Lumet means something else by “forced sex.”
Simmons’ comments continued, offering reasons for stepping down, even though he admits no wrongdoing.
“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… I will step aside and commit myself to continuing my personal growth, spiritual learning, and above all to listening.”
Overall, this is a very positive, proactive kind of statement. While denying the allegations, it does not try to defame or humiliate the accuser. What it will mean for Simmons or Lumet going forward remains to be seen.
Ronn Torossian is the Founder and CEO of the New York based public relations firm 5WPR: one of the 20 largest PR Firms in the United States.