Betty DeGeneres, mother of comedian and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, has publicly addressed her “regret” at not having listened when Ellen told her she’d been repeatedly molested by her stepfather.
“I know now that one of the hardest things to do is speak up after being sexually abused,” Betty, 89, said in a statement Ellen provided to NBC’s Today show. “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,” she added. “If someone in your life has the courage to speak out, please believe them.”
Ellen says that, when she was 15 or 16, her stepfather — whom she has never named, and who is now deceased — exploited her mother’s cancer diagnosis as an excuse to repeatedly grope her chest. “He told me when [my mom] was out of town that he’d felt a lump in her breast and needed to feel my breasts, because he didn’t want to upset her, but he needed to feel mine” she told David Letterman in a new episode of his Netflix show, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, streaming today. “He convinced me … and then he tries to do it again another time, and then another time.”
Ellen said she didn’t want to tell Betty, afraid of “ruin[ing] her happiness.” When she eventually did, her stepfather called her a liar, and Betty reportedly sided with him. “I should never have protected [my mother],” Ellen added. “I should have protected myself and I didn’t tell her for a few years, and then I told her. And then she didn’t believe me, and then she stayed with him for 18 more years and finally left him because he’d changed the story so many times.”
Ellen openly acknowledged the abuse for the first time in a 2005 interview with Allure, but shared relatively few details. She did note, however, that she once had to kick out her bedroom window and “sleep in a hospital all night long” after her stepfather tried to break down her door. She also spoke with the Today show’s Savannah Guthrie about the experience in 2018. Now, Ellen told Letterman, she’s sharing her story because often, survivors “don’t feel like we’re worthy, or we’re scared to have a voice, and we’re scared to say no.”
“I like men,” she explained, “but 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.”