For years, music producer Drew Dixon and rapper Sheri Sher kept quiet about Russell Simmons, fearing that naming him as their alleged assaulter would be a betrayal of the hip-hop community and forever label them as “victims.”
“To come out against Russell, who came and brought hip-hop to the major league, me as a Black young woman from the Bronx coming, I used to think, ‘What power would I have? Who’s going to believe me?'” Sher said at TheWrap’s Power Women Summit. “As a Black young woman growing up, you learn to nurture and stand for your hood, especially Black men, men of color in there, and how dare you come out and try to put him down when he’s already being put down by society and police? How dare you? So you had a silence and a code that you had to keep.”
Sher was a member of the first all-female DJ group, Mercedes Ladies. She said Simmons sexually assaulted her in his office in 1983 — and the difficulty of coming forward was also confounded by the lack of support she felt from her community. It wouldn’t be until 2017, when more women went on the record to accuse Simmons of rape or assault, that Sher felt encouraged to come forward publicly and name Simmons. (Simmons has repeatedly denied accusations of misconduct.)
One of those women included Dixon, whose story is also featured with Sher’s in the HBO Max documentary “On the Record.” Dixon, who has said Simmons violently raped her in 1995, said that keeping silent only further victimized herself — and that speaking out allowed her to reclaim parts of herself that she had buried away for so long.
“For the 22 years that I didn’t tell anyone, I thought I was liberating myself from the burden of this association. And once I said it, I realized I was actually free from that for the first time in my life,” Dixon said. “I spent so much time trying not to be a rape victim that I actually was victimizing myself by trapping myself in this tiny little playable area of this tiny little corner of the gameboard or the desktop that was the only space that I allowed myself to operate in because I didn’t want to accidentally bleed out of my little secret cover-up for his sake, thinking it was for my sake too.”
But when she finally went public, Dixon said she finally felt the freedom to be herself again.
“I could just wake up and be Drew Dixon and the fact that I was raped is just a small part of my life. I don’t think about it every day anymore,” Dixon said. “If you think that not telling … is keeping you safe, I promise you you are only doing the work of your abuser. You’ve become an accessory after the fact every day that you keep his secret. And the surprising truth is when you come forward and you face it and you get rid of the secret and you get to the other side of it and you find support, you’ll be free. You’ll find a strength you didn’t know you had.”
Watch Drew Dixon’s and Sheri Sher’s Power Women Summit conversation with Sunny Hostin above.
The Power Women Summit, presented by the WrapWomen Foundation, is the largest annual gathering of the most influential women in entertainment, media and technology. The Summit aims to inspire and empower women across the landscape of their professional careers and personal lives. This year’s all-virtual PWS provides three days of education, mentorship, workshops and networking around the globe to promote “Inclusion 360,” this year’s theme.