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Gabrielle Union on Sharing Her Rape Story: ‘I Cannot Shy Away from This Responsibility’

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Dennis Leupold

Gabrielle Union says she feels a “responsibility” to tell her story of sexual assault so that other women feel comfortable and confident to stand up for themselves.

The Birth of a Nation star previously spoke out — amid controversy surrounding former assault accusations against the film’s director, Nate Parker — about being raped at gunpoint while working at a Payless shoe store 24 years ago.

In Essence magazine’s November issue, Union says, “As a rape survivor and as an advocate, I cannot shy away from this responsibility because the conversation got difficult. I don’t want to put myself above anyone’s pain or triggers. Every victim or survivor, I believe you. I support you.”

That support extends to those who won’t see the Nat Turner biopic — which had a lackluster debut weekend — because of Parker’s past, Union explains.

“I absolutely understand and respect that,” she says. “I can’t sell the film. This movie has always been about more than one person, and for the outspoken feminist advocates and allies who risked a lot to be a part of this project — Aja Naomi King, Aunjanue Elllis, Penelope Ann Miller — we are okay if you have to sit this one out, and we’re okay if you don’t, and we understand.”

 

Dennis Leupold
Dennis Leupold

Parker and his friend and collaborator Jean Celestin were accused by a female classmate at Penn State University of sexual assault in 1999. The filmmaker was charged, tried and subsequently acquitted, while Celestin was charged and convicted. His case was, however, later overturned on an appeal after the accuser decided not to testify.

It was revealed earlier this year that the woman committed suicide in 2012.

Union promised she would not take allegations against Parker “lightly.” Later, she told PEOPLE that she felt that Parker was “evolving.”

Of her own assault, Union has said that she decided to use her platform to “talk about the horrors of sexual violence and what it does to your soul and to your psyche and to your sanity and to your family and to your relationships.”

RELATED VIDEO: Inside Birth of a Nation Director Nate Parker’s 1999 Rape Trial

 

The star told reporters at the Toronto Film Festival, “My personal discomfort is nothing compared to being a voice for people who feel absolutely voiceless and powerless.”

Also in Essence, Union opened up about her role as a stepmom to husband Dwyane Wade’s three children.

“Teens get teen-y. It’s harder,” she says. “I never understood that. ‘You won’t sleep.’ I always associated that phrase with babies. Crying, teething babies. No. Until they walk through the door, I’m terrified.”