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Music Mogul Russell Simmons Is Accused of Rape by 3 Women

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Mr. Simmons, a powerful gatekeeper in the entertainment and media worlds, damaged careers and
self-confidence with his pattern of sexual assault and harassment, the women say.

In 1995, Drew Dixon was working her dream job as an executive at Def Jam Recordings, helping to oversee a chart-topping album and a ubiquitous single by Method Man and Mary J. Blige. But as her star rose, Ms. Dixon, then 24, was spiraling into depression, she said, because of prolonged and aggressive sexual harassment by her direct supervisor, Russell Simmons, the rap mogul and co-founder of the label.

On work calls, he would talk graphically about how she aroused him. At a staff meeting, he asked her to sit on his lap. He regularly exposed his erect penis to her. Late that year, Mr. Simmons raped her in his downtown Manhattan apartment, Ms. Dixon said. She quit Def Jam soon after.

“I was broken,” she said.

In recent interviews, four women spoke on the record about a pattern of violent sexual behavior by Mr. Simmons, disclosing incidents from 1988 to 2014. Three of the women say that he raped them.

In each case, numerous friends and associates said they were told of the incidents at the time. The women said they were inspired to come forward in the aftermath of the accusations against Harvey Weinstein, as victims’ stories have been newly elevated and more often believed.

Told in detail about the rape accusations and other misconduct, Mr. Simmons, 60, said in a statement: “I vehemently deny all these allegations. These horrific accusations have shocked me to my core and all of my relations have been consensual.”

He added: “I have enormous respect for the women’s movement worldwide and their struggle for respect, dignity, equality and power.”

[Read Russell Simmons’s Complete Statement]

Last month, Mr. Simmons — a forefather of hip-hop who went on to great success in fashion, media and more — apologized for being “thoughtless and insensitive” and announced he was stepping down from his companies after the screenwriter Jenny Lumet became the second woman to publicly accuse him of sexual assault at the time.

“I have re-dedicated myself to spiritual learning, healing and working on behalf of the communities to which I have devoted my life,” he said in his statement on Wednesday. “I have accepted that I can and should get dirt on my sleeves if it means witnessing the birth of a new consciousness about women.

“What I will not accept is responsibility for what I have not done. I have conducted my life with a message of peace and love. Although I have been candid about how I have lived in books and interviews detailing my flaws, I will relentlessly fight against any untruthful character assassination that paints me as a man of violence.”

The most powerful men and companies in popular music have thus far gone largely unscathed in the national reckoning over sexual abuse. A major reason: Sex and debauchery are built into the music industry, where the boundaries between work and play blur in late nights at clubs and studios, and many women have scant power or incentive to complain about being mistreated.

These women still face powerful industry gatekeepers like Mr. Simmons, whose pedigree and ability to make or break careers allowed his abusive behavior to go unchallenged for decades, his accusers contend. “Russell was like the king of hip-hop,” Ms. Dixon said.

She said she was later harassed by another boss, L.A. Reid, the music legend known for his work with TLC and Mariah Carey, driving her from a business where women had little autonomy. In a statement to The New York Times, Mr. Reid did not address the specific claims but apologized if his words were “misinterpreted.”

Black women, especially, felt powerless against Mr. Simmons and his cohort in the small world of urban music, with several saying that misconduct against them could go unchecked because their place in the industry was so tenuous. They feared being ostracized, or worse.

Three of the women now accusing Mr. Simmons were pursuing careers in the music industry that they said were disrupted or derailed in part by their experiences with him.

“I didn’t sing for almost a year,” said Tina Baker, a performer who said Mr. Simmons raped her in the early ’90s, when he was her manager. “The second he agreed to work with me, my budget increased, the label was paying more attention to me,” Ms. Baker recalled. But after the assault, she said, “I went into oblivion.”

‘He Pushed Me on the Bed’

First known as a hyperactive party promoter turned manager from Queens who helped boost Run-DMC, Mr. Simmons was among the first to view hip-hop as a big business and cultural force. In 1983, with the producer Rick Rubin, he made Def Jam the defining rap label of its era, with hits by the Beastie Boys, LL Cool J and Public Enemy.

Even after Mr. Simmons sold his remaining stake in Def Jam for a reported $100 million in 1999, he served as an ambassador for hip-hop through comedy (“Def Comedy Jam”), clothing (Phat Farm) and activism. Today, his company Rush Communications oversees an array of businesses and nonprofits, including the politically minded media company Global Grind.

In 1987, Toni Sallie, a music journalist for the trade magazine Black Radio Exclusive, met Mr. Simmons while on assignment. She found him to be a charming, if gruff, playboy. They ended up going on a few dates before Ms. Sallie, then 28, decided they were not a match.

But the two remained cordial, Ms. Sallie said, and in the fall of 1988, Mr. Simmons invited her to his Manhattan apartment for a party he said he was hosting for his girlfriend. When Ms. Sallie arrived, the place was empty except for Mr. Simmons, she recalled. Saying he wanted to show her the apartment, Mr. Simmons led her to his bedroom.

“He pushed me on the bed and jumped on top of me, and physically attacked me,” she said. “We were fighting. I said no.” He raped her, she said. Two friends, Sheila Brody and Arlene Hirschkowitz, and a colleague confirmed that Ms. Sallie told them about the assault around the time it happened.

Through his lawyer, Brad D. Rose, Mr. Simmons acknowledged that he dated Ms. Sallie but denied any nonconsensual sex.

Ms. Sallie said she was too afraid to report the assault: “If I went to the police, I didn’t know how that would turn out.”

She also worried about her burgeoning career. “You have to understand, I was very much in a man’s game,” Ms. Sallie said. “Black women were just starting to break into the field.”

About a year later, at a music conference in South Florida, Ms. Sallie, who was then working for Warner Bros. Records, said she encountered Mr. Simmons in a hotel lobby. When he tried to lead her to a dark beach, she resisted and he attacked her, grabbing her by the hair, she said, and even chasing her into the women’s restroom before she escaped to her room, where she barricaded the door. (“At no time did Mr. Simmons conduct himself inappropriately,” Mr. Rose said.)

To this day, Ms. Sallie said, “I don’t feel comfortable in a room full of men.”

Music executives she told about the hotel incident brushed it off, she added. “I felt alone for 29 years,” she said, “like nobody would listen to me.”

Following the reports of alleged misconduct by Mr. Simmons in November, Ms. Sallie said she contacted the Manhattan district attorney’s office to accuse him.

A law enforcement official confirmed that a woman contacted the district attorney’s office to report an incident from 1988 and added that a different anonymous woman had recently reported an incident from 1991. The official said the incidents had occurred so long ago that the statute of limitations had lapsed and the crimes had not been prosecuted. There are no details about the woman from the 1991 incident.

But the official said the women had been referred to the New York Police Department’s Special Victims squad so that there would be a record of their complaints if more recent allegations were to emerge.

‘I Shut My Eyes and Waited for It to End’

Ms. Baker, the singer, thought Mr. Simmons could elevate her career as her new manager. She had performed as a backup vocalist for Madonna and Bruce Springsteen, and, as Tina B, released pop and dance records in the 1980s.

One night in late 1990 or early 1991, she ran into Mr. Simmons at a club, and he invited her back to his apartment to discuss her career. “I didn’t think anything of going,” Ms. Baker said, having been there many times without incident.

This time, though, “it all got really ugly, pretty fast,” Ms. Baker said. As soon as they entered, Mr. Simmons started pouring drinks and trying to kiss her, leading to a scuffle, she said. She recalled “him on top of me, pushing me down and him saying, ‘Don’t fight me,’” Ms. Baker said. She was pinned on the bed. “I did nothing, I shut my eyes and waited for it to end.”

She cried the whole way home, she said. In interviews and email, her ex-husband, Arthur Baker, a music producer; her psychologist, Dr. Robin Goldberg; another therapist; and a former roommate all confirmed that she told them she was raped.

Mr. Simmons, through his lawyer, said he had “no recollection of ever having any sexual relations with Ms. Baker.”

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