Oprah Winfrey has long been honest about her life, but there was one moment where she didn’t feel brave enough to speak up.
The media mogul and A Wrinkle in Time star, 64, tells PEOPLE in the latest cover story that she held back for year from sharing that she had been molested as a child.
“The moment I first confessed on The Oprah Winfrey Show to being molested, I confessed because there had been a time years before when a girl on the People Are Talking show I did in Baltimore had told the story of being molested, and I did not have the courage at that time to say out loud, ‘Me too,’ ” Winfrey reveals.
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The mogul says she told the girl her similar experience after the show and said she “was scared to say that” when the girl questioned her for not speaking up. That moment stayed with Winfrey and she didn’t hesitate when she had a second chance in 1986 on her talk show. “And then one day on the show someone said it, so I felt compelled to speak up,” she recalls.
Winfrey revealed that she had been molested by her cousin, an uncle and a family friend as a young girl. In the issue, Winfrey opened up about her years of sexual abuse and explains why victims, and especially young ones, are sometimes hesitant to share their experience.
“It happened to me at 9, and then 10, and then 11, and then 12, 13, 14. You don’t have the language to begin to explain what’s happening to you,” she says. “That’s why you feel you’re not going to be believed. And if the abuser, the molester, is any good, they will make you feel that you are complicit, that you were part of it. That’s what keeps you from telling.”
Winfrey also opened up about her experience with a boss who often bullied her while she was working at a TV station in Baltimore. The mogul says that women have always dealt with brutish men in the workplace.
“Women all over the country have been in situations with domineering, brutish men and had to remain silent about it to keep food on the table. I had a boss who was just a brute,” she says. “This was at WJZ-TV in Baltimore. I knew that saying anything at the time would have taken me out of television forever. That nothing would have been done about it. I wasn’t going to be there forever, so I said nothing. Every time he would pass my desk, I would turn around and try to disappear.”