The actress and humanitarian published an essay in the Variety Power of Women Issue yesterday revealing that while she was filming “Kiss the Girls” in the late ’90s, a studio mogul “groomed” her, a tactic most famously associated with child molesters but common among sexual predators in general. (The process involves targeting victims, gaining their trust, fostering secrecy and other techniques.) Things started innocently enough: the mogul invited Judd to meet him for dinner at the hotel. Then he wanted to eat in his room. “It went on in these stages,” Judd explains. “He physically lured me by saying, ‘Oh, help me pick out what I’m going to wear.’ There was a lot that happened between the point of entry and the bargaining. There was this whole process of bargaining — ‘Come do this, come do this, come do this.’ And I would say, ‘No, no no.'”
If Judd was so uncomfortable, why didn’t she speak up and confront him before the situation escalated further? She has the perfect response to those ignorant, unempathetic, or malicious enough to pose this kind of question: “A lot of the people will say, ‘Why didn’t you leave the room?’, which is victim-blaming. When I kept saying no to everything, there was a huge asymmetry of power and control in that room.”
Eventually, the man asked her to watch him take a shower (as if his grossness could ever be washed away). Judd recounts, “In that moment, I told him something like, ‘When I win an Academy Award in one of your movies.’ He said, ‘No, when you get nominated.’ I said, ‘No, no, when I win an Academy Award.’ That was a small moment of power when I was able to contradict him and hold to my reality. And then I got out of there.”
The “Divergent” star later discovered that the “exact same thing” had happened to other actresses with the same mogul, and through this swapping of tales, “There was a mutual strengthening and fortification of resolve.”
“I beat myself up for a while,” Judd recalls. “This is another part of the process. We internalize the shame. It really belongs to the person who is the aggressor.” As time passed and she was able to see the situation more objectively, she thought, “Oh god, that’s wrong. That’s sexual harassment. That’s illegal. I was really hard on myself because I didn’t get out of it by saying, ‘OK motherf-er, I’m calling the police.’ That’s what I should have done, because I’m smart. That also contributed to my journey of coming forward, because I felt bad about myself initially for the way I maintained my safety and got out of the room. When, in fact, what I did was exceedingly clever and brilliant and self-preserving. That’s another element of how we internalize those attitudes and talking to other people is so crucial is being able to take action.”
At the time of the ordeal, Judd was “a declared feminist” and had completed a minor in women’s studies. “And yet I did not recognize at the time what was happening to me,” she admits. “It took years before I could evaluate that incident and realize that there was something incredibly wrong and illegal about it.” Judd was in a vulnerable position and being preyed upon — no one is immune to harassment. (And as Lady Gaga’s recent ode to sexual assault survivors goes, “Til it happens to you, you don’t know how it feels.”) Judd has since become involved with the International Center for Research on Women, Women for Women International and Equality Now.
Men in positions of authority abusing their power by making inappropriate sexual advances on women — and boys — is pretty much a tale as old as time. Like other types of sexually related crimes such as rape and assault, sexual harassment in Hollywood is likely vastly underreported. Most actresses are too fearful to come forward, and understandably so. Inevitably, their character will be maligned,and their account of events questioned by vocal and misogynistic skeptics who claim that they are desperate for press or that they brought it on themselves.
And that’s to say nothing of the professional consequences of making these kinds of accusations. Judd says she was never offered another movie by that studio after denying the mogul’s “request” to watch him shower. In other words, she was punished just for saying no, so who knows what would have happened had she gone public at the time of the incident. She still won’t name names, and we suspect that is partially because of the career fallout she would risk in doing so, not to mention legal trouble. Who can blame her? As Judd herself notes, “Part of the strategy that keeps girls and women constrained in their professional experiences is retaliation and ridicule.”
Read Judd’s complete account over at Variety.