Less than a day after another wave of sexual assault accusations, Russell Simmons denied all rape allegations via Instagram on Thursday, Dec. 14. "Today, I begin to properly defend myself. I will prove without any doubt that I am innocent of all rape charges," he wrote, adding a #NotMe hashtag, reminiscent of the #MeToo movement that spread across social media in October. (Simmons noted in his post that his intention is "not to diminish the #MeToo movement in anyway [sic]," but instead hold his accusers "accountable.") Bustle reached out to Simmons' legal team for further comment on his hashtag, but did not receive an immediate response.
UPDATE: In a statement to Page Six in January 2018, Simmons has decided “that this is a time for women to speak.”
Simmons' post comes on the heels of a pair of reports published by The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times on Wednesday night, in which nine more women accused the music mogul of sexual assault, including four allegations of rape (Simmons denied their claims through his lawyer). Their accounts span several decades, alleging "a pattern of violent sexual behavior by Simmons" between 1988 and 2014, according to The New York Times' report. In a statement to Bustle from his lawyer, Simmons said, in part:
"I vehemently deny all these allegations. These horrific accusations have shocked me to my core and all of my relations have been consensual ... I have already apologized for the instances of thoughtlessness in my consensual relations. I have separated from my businesses and charities in order to not become a distraction."
In a previous statement to The Hollywood Reporter, Simmons also apologized to "any women from my past who I may have offended" and claimed, "I have never committed any acts of aggression or violence in my life. I would never knowingly cause fear or harm to anyone.”
In total, 11 women have now accused Simmons of sexual assault. In November, model Keri Claussen Khalighi claimed in a Los Angeles Times story that Simmons “coerced her to have oral sex” and “briefly penetrated her without her consent.” Shortly afterward, screenwriter Jenny Lumet came forward with similar accusations, alleging in a guest column for THR that the Def Jam co-founder "sexually violated" her in 1991. Simmons has denied their accounts.
Simmons has since stepped down from all of his companies, but it seems clear from his Instagram post that he doesn't plan on staying quiet, and neither does the internet. Already, his comments have begun to ruffle feathers, particularly for his use of the #NotMe hashtag. Though he makes clear his intent is not directed to the #MeToo movement, it feels near impossible not to relate the two, and he's already receiving pushback for seemingly co-opting a phrase initially meant to empower victims of abuse. "I feel the same about this
#NotMe hashtag as I do 'White Lives Matter,'" wrote one Twitter user. Added another: "Yeah Russ... Not a good look."
And that criticism isn't all that's happening here. At worst, Simmons' hashtag appears to actively, if ignorantly, shred the #MeToo movement's progress. Whether or not it was his intention, some have already begun to weaponize #NotMe as a way to discredit sexual assault claims.
Of course, with any internet movement, for as many people as there are challenging the #NotMe concept, there will be just as many supporting it. And in a world where survivors already struggle to be believed, even one small hashtag can be a huge step back. Simmons has the right to defend himself, but he doesn’t need to inadvertently tear down an entire movement in the process.
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.