"There is still a lot of work to do," says Hilarie Burton of sexual harassment and abuse in Hollywood

By Aili Nahas
April 30, 2020 12:00 PM
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It’s been over a decade since Hilarie Burton left One Tree Hill, but the memories — both happy and painful — remain with her.

In her new memoir, The Rural Diaries — out May 5 — Burton opens up about her family and her joyful life on a 100-acre farm in the Hudson Valley. But in the book, the actress also writes about the abuse she says she suffered while starring on the CW’s hit teen drama series.

“I had such strong relationships on the show and I still do,” Burton, 37, who was on the show for six years before she left in 2009, tells PEOPLE. “There was so much good. But there was bad too.”

In 2017, Burton, along with several of her former costars and One Tree Hill crew members, came forward about alleged sexual abuse and harassment they endured at the hands of creator Mark Schwahn.

  • For more from Hilarie Burton, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday
Bryan Firestone

Burton recalls being “groomed,” by Schwahn on set, whom she said in 2017 was verbally abusive, touched her inappropriately and kissed her against her will. (Schwahn has never commented on the allegations and was fired from his job as showrunner in 2017.)

The Rural Diaries

But despite the situation, Burton, then in her early 20s, didn’t formally complain about her boss.

“I was told that if you speak up, your career is over,” says the actress, who is wed to The Walking Dead‘s Jeffrey Dean Morgan, with whom she shares son Gus, 10, and daughter George, 2. “You’ll be labeled a troublemaker.”

Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Hilarie Burton with daughter George and son Augustus
Jeffrey Dean Morgan/Instagram

As a result, “I didn’t say anything for a decade,” says Burton. “And as a result of that, people were abused after me. The guilt that comes with that is really difficult.”

Now, Burton admits, “I’ll always be angry” about the abuse she endured. But she’s focusing on imparting the lessons she’s learned to her young daughter.

“It affects how I parent [George],” she says. “She will never be a pleaser. If my daughter tells someone to f— off, awesome. I wish I had had the ability to do that.”

Burton says she’s had conversations about her experience with son Gus. “He knows something bad went down on that set and he asks me, ‘Why do you still do conventions for it? Why do you still talk about it?’ But I am making a decision as an adult to focus on the good, to focus on the fan base and the crew and the fact that I got to learn my craft every day.”

Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Hilarie Burton
Courtesy The Morgans/AMC

Continues Burton: “It was a wonderful opportunity for me to stretch. And now that [the allegations] are out there, we all just get to collectively give this sigh of relief.”

Ultimately, she says she hopes “that kind of behavior is being flushed out of our industry.” That said, says Burton, “there is still a lot of work to do.”

The Rural Diaries is on stands May 5. Friday Night In with the Morgans airs Fridays (10 p.m. ET) on AMC.