Ellen DeGeneres' mother says she regrets not believing her daughter when she said she was sexually abused by her stepfather as a teenager.
It's the first time 89-year-old Betty DeGeneres has spoken publicly about the abuse. In a statement to NBC News, she responded to the talk show host's revelation of details of the abuse in an episode of David Letterman's Netflix Show, "My Next Guest Needs No Introduction." In the episode, released on Friday, DeGeneres said her mother didn't believe her story.
"I know now that one of the hardest things to do is speak up after being sexually abused," Betty DeGeneres said in a statement. "I love my daughter, and I wish I had the capacity to listen to her when she told me what happened. I live with that regret, and I wouldn't want that for any other parent. If someone in your life has the courage to speak out, please believe them."
Ellen DeGeneres told Letterman the abuse began when she was 15 or 16, after her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy.
"He told me when she was out of town that he'd felt a lump in her breast and needed to feel my breasts," she said in the episode. "He convinced me that he needs to feel my breasts, and then he tries to do it again another time, and then another time ... When I didn't let him the next time, he just kept taunting me and pretending like he was coming at me all the time."
DeGeneres, 61, said she struggled to tell her mother "because I was protecting her, and I knew that that would ruin her happiness. She was happy with him, even though he was a horrible man."
She eventually told her. "And then she didn't believe me. And then she stayed with him for 18 more years ... He said I was lying, and then she stayed with him."
The talk show host said her mother's reaction has been a source of tension in their relationship. "I didn't really let it get to me. And, until recently, it's like, you know, I kind of went, 'I wish I would have been better taken care of. I wish she would have believed me.' And she's apologetic, but you know."
Ellen had previously spoken about the sexual abuse in a 2005 interview with Allure Magazine, as well as during an October 2018 episode of her own talk show while speaking with NBC's Savannah Guthrie.
"I was 15 years old - I'm not even going into the details, it doesn't matter - but we are really vulnerable at that age, and we trust," she told Guthrie at the time. "And then when you are violated, you don't know what to do and you don't want to say anything because first of all, you just start wondering, 'How did this happen? How was I that stupid?' All of these things you think you could have controlled and you can't."
She told Letterman she thought it was important to speak out about her experience.
"When I see people speaking out, especially now, it angers me when victims aren't believed because we just don't make stuff up," she said. "There are so many men that get away with so much. It is just time for us to have a voice. It's time for us to have power."