Former Russell Simmons adviser on sexual assault claims against the icon: 'I believe women'

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Prominent activist Michael Skolnik says he had a moment of reflection after his friend and former associate Russell Simmons was accused of sexual assault. The media mogul, record executive and entrepreneur has been accused of more than a dozen cases by multiple women, starting in 2017. Simmons has repeatedly denied the accusations.

“It hurts. It’s someone you love. I didn’t know. I didn’t see it,” Skolnik, who was Simmons’s political adviser, said on the Yahoo News show “Dear Men.”

“You’re like, ‘Damn. I love you but I’m so hurt by it.”

He says he believes women, regardless of close relationships and friendships, but also acknowledges that Simmons has contributed a lot to the world culturally. “You know, I’ve confronted him … and I think many of us men — including him — have a lot of introspection work to do, and I hope he does it. It seems he is. And I hope that there is an ability to heal for those women.”

Skolnik, co-founder of the Soze Agency, has been referred to in the New York Times as “the man you go to if you are on the left and want to leverage the power of celebrity and the reach of digital media to soften the ground for social change.” He was the architect of March For Our Lives after the Parkland students reached out to him. And his #MeToo cred is solid, having been arrested while protesting Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing.

According to Skolnik, men have to move from allyship to accomplice. “Allyship says you go first. … I’m with you in your movement. Accomplice means what happens when you’re not there?” he asked. “I want to know that when I go home that I said something, that I did something and that no one was watching. I need to go home and look at my son in the face and say ‘Daddy’s gonna stand up and you are too.’”

As a father, being open and talking with his son about these issues is important to him.

Skolnik said, “Do you think when Harvey Weinstein was 5 years old, his mother or father were sitting here, they’d say, ‘Yeah, when he’s 60, he’ll be in court on counts of rape and sexual assault.’ Absolutely not.”

“I don’t think that when I’m 60 years old, my son is going to be on trial,” he said. “Even though we might think, ‘My son would never do that.’ How do you know that?”

That’s why he said it’s become routine for Skolnik to talk to his son every day about these complex issues — particularly about how to treat women.

As we navigate the #MeToo era, these are topics that we’re all learning to grapple with. But the times of sitting on the sidelines are over. It's time to speak up for what is right and use our voices to be an advocate for equality in all forms, whether or not someone is watching.