‘I Always Thought It Was My Fault’: Jane Fonda Speaks Out About Being Raped

by Valerie Williams
Image via Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

The long-time activist is sharing her story for the first time

Jane Fonda has spent the last several decades as an activist for a variety of causes including gender equality and feminism. She opened up recently about her personal history with sexual assault and abuse to let women know that if it happens to them, it’s never their fault.

In an interview with actress Brie Larson for The Edit, the two women discuss how feminism has shaped Fonda’s activism and the causes she’s chosen to champion. In that discussion, Fonda reveals that she herself was a victim. “To show you the extent to which a patriarchy takes a toll on females, I’ve been raped, I’ve been sexually abused as a child, and I’ve been fired because I wouldn’t sleep with my boss. And I always thought it was my fault, that I didn’t do or say the right thing.”

She says it took time for her to become the empowered woman that she is today, in her words, an “embodied feminist.” And because she’s been there, Fonda understands the mental and emotional obstacles involved in processing sexual assault and abuse. “I know young girls who’ve been raped and didn’t even know it was rape. They think, It must have been because I said no the wrong way. One of the great things the women’s movement has done is to make us realize that rape and abuse is not our fault. We were violated, and it’s not right.”

As a victim of sexual assault in college who only told close family in the last year, I completely understand why Fonda would keep her history of rape and abuse private all this time. In the process of speaking out, a victim opens themselves up to criticism and scrutiny — to people suggesting they’re misremembering events or even making them up. It’s a difficult thing to feel that vulnerable, and she’s doing it in a very public way in the hopes of helping others know they aren’t alone. Every time a woman speaks out about her rape or abuse, she takes away a little more of the stigma and helps embolden others to talk about what’s happened to them or seek help.

Bravo and thank you to Fonda for sharing her story. So many victims of rape and abuse will never say a word out of misplaced shame or the fear that no one will believe them. She’s doing a great service to others who have been there by talking openly about her experiences and being one more voice telling victims “it’s not your fault.”