David Letterman dropped a new round of interviews on Friday, May 31 via his Netflix series My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, including a sit-down with fellow talk show host Ellen DeGeneres. While the conversation had some light moments, things became much more serious when DeGeneres opened up about being sexually abused by her late stepfather. Based on her tone alone, it's clearly not easy for her to talk about, but she explained that she wants other girls to not wind up in the same situation. And although her mother initially didn't believe her, DeGeneres' mom Betty released a statement, also on Friday, voicing support for her daughter.
To backtrack, DeGeneres explained to Letterman that her parents got divorced in her teen years, and her mother then remarried "a very bad man." When the host asked, "This is the man that hurt you?", DeGeneres agreed. She admitted she was "angry" at herself for not standing up to him when she was around 15 or 16.
Before continuing, the now 61-year-old prefaced her story by saying:
"It’s a really horrible, horrible story and the only reason I’m going to go into detail about it is because I want other girls to not ever let someone do that."
She then went on to recall that her mother had breast cancer soon after remarrying and had a mastectomy. Speaking of her stepfather, DeGeneres claimed,
"He told me when she [my mom] was out of town that he felt a lump in her breast and needed to feel my breast, because he didn't want to upset her, but he needed to feel mine."
After he "convinced" her that he needed to do that, DeGeneres said, "Then he tries to do it again another time. And then another time he tries to break my door down and I kicked the window out and ran because I knew it was going to go more."
DeGeneres admitted she initially kept the news from her mother, because she was trying to protect her. "I knew that that would ruin her happiness and she was happy with him, even though he was a horrible man," she explained. "I should never have protected her, I should have protected myself."
Eventually, a few years later, DeGeneres told her mom, who didn't believe her and stayed with the stepfather for 18 more years. "He said I was lying, and then she stayed with him. So that made me really angry," DeGeneres explained. And while she acknowledged, "I wish I would've been better taken care of. I wish she would have believed me," DeGeneres said her mother has since been apologetic.
That's all the more clear in Betty's new statement released to NBC's The Today Show on Friday. The statement read:
“I know now that one of the hardest things to do is speak up after being sexually abused. I love my daughter, and I wish I had the capacity to listen to her when she told me what happened. I live with that regret, and I wouldn't want that for any parent. If someone in your life has the courage to speak out, please believe them."
The notion of believing people who come forward was also echoed in DeGeneres' own Letterman comments. She said during the Netflix interview:
"When I see people speaking out, especially now, it angers me when victims aren’t believed, because we just don’t make stuff up. And I like men, but there are so many men that get away with so much. It is just time for us to have a voice, it's time for us to have power."
Tying into that, she added, "What most women do is we just don’t feel like we have a voice... We just don’t feel like we’re worthy. Or we’re scared to have a voice. We’re scared to say no." By sharing her story, DeGeneres is making a conscious effort to change that notion and help others have a voice.
DeGeneres previously opened up about her experience with her late stepfather, who she did not name, in a 2005 interview with Allure (per People), but that likely doesn't make it any easier to share such a personal story on a major platform. And it's clear she's doing so with the intention of trying to help others.
If someone does come to you with their own sexual abuse or assault story, here's a guide with suggestions of how to best respond and offer support. There's also this list of helpful things to say, according to survivors.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit online.rainn.org.