The list of sexual misconduct allegations against powerful public figures continues to grow at a disheartening pace, but none of the accused have responded to claims quite like Russell Simmons. After multiple women named him as their attacker—13 to date—the hip hop mogul and founder of Def Jam Recordings opted to make a public proclamation of innocence in the form of a #NotMe manifesto, telling his social media followers and anyone who cared to read his message how he planned to clear his name.
“Today, I begin to properly defend myself. I will prove without any doubt that I am innocent of all rape charges,” reads an Instagram post by Simmons. “My intention is not to diminish the #MeToo movement in anyway [sic], but instead hold my accusers accountable. #NotMe Again, this is not a movement against or even in conjunction with #MeToo. It’s just a statement about my innocence.”
Well, if there’s a question of whether there’s a right way for the accused to respond to sexual assault allegations, either Simmons or his advisors must’ve decided that this “I Didn’t Do It” hashtag plea that essentially mocks his accusers wasn’t the appropriate tactic. Shortly after sharing the post, Simmons abruptly stopped his campaign to convince everyone that he wasn’t the violent predator depicted in the multiple accusations.
Keri Claussen Khalighi, a model and the first woman referenced in the dreadful #NotMe Instagram post, claims Simmons forced himself on her when she was 17, an abhorrent act that film director and producer Brett Ratner allegedly observed. Khalighi says Simmons later apologized in private, but stated during an appearance on Megyn Kelly that the gesture completely contradicts his public denial of the attack.
Simmons claims he didn’t intend for #NotMe to detract from or contradict the #MeToo movement, but one would have to be woefully tone-deaf to not feel like that’s precisely what he attempted to do. As a result, critics immediately called out the failed hashtag campaign for what it was: an insensitive co-opting of #MeToo that essentially sought to eclipse the powerful crusade Tarana Burke created to give a voice to women of color who have survived sexual abuse, assaults or exploitation.
Further casting doubt on Simmons’ sincerity is the manner in which he allegedly attempted to silence actor Terry Crews, who said a Hollywood agent groped him in public. After Crews went public with his story, he tweeted a screenshot of an email that supposedly showed Simmons urging him to give his attacker “a pass.”
Although new sexual assault complaints levied against Simmons are under investigation by the New York City Police Department, there have yet to be any formal charges filed or criminal convictions made. Regardless, the women behind these allegations still deserve to be heard.
If Simmons feels he is the victim of a public pile-on, then he’s certainly entitled to say so. However, it would’ve been best for all involved if he left that assertion at a simple denial of the accusations. But by using #NotMe to defend himself, he further contributed to reducing #MeToo to nothing more than an unjust smear campaign against men, compounding the dismissive attempts to disarm and malign women who are brave enough to share their stories of survival.