"That little girl in me wanting to do the right thing, not knowing how to stand up for herself and not knowing how to stop it," Jessica Simpson tells PEOPLE

By Liz McNeil
January 29, 2020 08:30 AM

In her upcoming memoir Open Book, Jessica Simpson reveals that she was sexually abused from the ages of 6 to 12. Her abuser was the daughter of a family friend, a girl only a year old than Simpson.

“It would start with tickling my back and then go into things that were extremely uncomfortable,” she writes.

“As a child, I didn’t know what was going on,” Simpson, 39, tells PEOPLE. “I just knew I wanted to protect everybody else in the room.”

In her book, she describes how the trauma and emotional pain shaped her life — the fear she had of being alone, of being unable to stand up for herself. Pain she tried to numb for years with alcohol and stimulants.

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Jessica Simpson
Mike Rosenthal

Simpson got sober in November 2017, and hasn’t had a drink since. With therapy, she opened up about the trauma that had long been buried and she quietly began to heal.

Part of her healing was confronting her abuser, who had also been abused.

“I said, ‘I know what we’ve both been through and I’m sorry that you were abused, and if I wasn’t there for you in the way that I needed to be, I’m sorry.”

“I needed to confront my abuser,” says Simpson. “It was extremely painful and still is. It’s still shocking. That little girl in me wanting to do the right thing, not knowing how to stand up for herself and not knowing how to stop it.”

With the clarity that came with sobriety, and the support of her loved ones, Simpson has worked to become whole again. “I felt like a lot of who I am, the character of who I am, was built through the trials and the pain of abuse,” she says. “I allowed it to happen, so I felt that I was as much of the abuser as the abused. So I was very shameful during that time, from 6 to 12 years old.”

Jessica Simpson
Mike Rosenthal

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In one of the book’s most painful passages, she recounts the moment when she told her parents, Tina and Joe Simpson, about the abuse. She was 12 years old and they were in the car. “My mother slapped my father’s arm. ‘I told you something was happening,’ she yelled at him,” writes Simpson. But neither of her parents said anything to her.

“Normally, I would’ve candy coated it, and I didn’t,” says Simpson. “They understood why I needed to have it in the book. I know as parents they wanted to protect me from everything in the world. I was a preacher’s daughter and I was so protected — and also I wasn’t. It’s hard for a parent to hear that — but it also wasn’t their fault. It felt good to say it out loud and then it never happened again.”

“From that moment on, we never went back to that place and we were never alone in that situation again. It broke their hearts. Their way of dealing with it was to make sure that it never happened again.”

Simpson, who runs her namesake clothing line, is releasing six new songs along with the audio book version of her memoir — which she narrated — on Feb. 4.

Peter Zambouros

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Now married to Eric Johnson with whom she has three kids: daughter Maxwell, 7, son Ace, 6, and baby Birdie, 10 months, she hopes her story will help others. “I wish I would have spoken up earlier but I’m glad that I can now,” she says.

“As a mother, that’s why I wanted to tell people about it — that it’s not your fault.”

For more from Jessica Simpson and an exclusive excerpt from Open Book, pick up the Feb. 3 issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please contact the SAMHSA substance abuse helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.

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