Viola Davis opened up publicly for the first time about one of her own sisters' experience with sexual assault and drug addiction in a harrowing, but hopeful, speech. The How to Get Away With Murder star spoke yesterday in LA at a benefit for Stuart House, a nonprofit that partners with The Rape Foundation to support child victims of sex abuse, and shared her own family's story.
"I have a sister, who, when she was 8 years old, put on some rollerskates with her friend, went down to the corner store at 1 o'clock in the afternoon, went into the store, and was sexually assaulted in the store," Viola began. "She came home and she told my mom. My mom ran down to the store, started screaming at the store owners and they said: 'Leave that man alone. He does that to all the little girls.' And then my mom proceeded to flag down a police officer. They found the man. They put him in the car. I saw my little sister crying. My mom was crying, too. And that was it."
"And then from there, a precocious, very intelligent, very creative child grew up to be frail, angry, a drug addict by the time she was 20," Viola continued, her voice cracking. "Six children, all of which have been taken by social services. A prostitute. An IV drug user. You know, memories demand attention, because memories have teeth. And in my vision, and in my dreams, when I pray for my sister . . . you pray in general terms. You pray that she finds peace and love and happiness, she gets off drugs. And then of course you open your eyes, and you're like, she's still on the streets."
"I wish she had had the Stuart House to throw her a rope, because her whole life could have been different," Viola said toward the end of her speech. "There are a lot of beautiful stories that are going to come out of the Stuart House . . . there's going to be so many testimonies of winning and heroic young people literally opening their mouths and speaking about their abuse — daring to call out their abusers. And I guess if there was anything I was going to speak about today, I'm going to speak about my sisters of the world. The people who fell through the cracks. The people who didn't have a Stuart House."
While Viola expressed hope for young people who will have a chance to walk through the Stuart House's doors, she didn't sugarcoat the fact that her own family's experience didn't have a happy ending.
"This is a day the lord has made, and I'm going to rejoice and be glad in it," she said, "because I wish I could tell my sister that she's not dirty, and that she should not feel any shame for something that she literally was not responsible for. I wish I could save her life."