She is known for her feisty characters on “Desperate Housewives” and “Ugly Betty”, but fans of singer/actress Vanessa Williams will be shocked to learn that for years she has held onto a secret – she was molested when she was a child.
Williams, 49, has written about the disturbing incident for the first time in her memoir “You Have No Idea”.
Speaking about being crowned Miss America in 1983, Vanessa says, “I had no emotion. I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t excited. I wasn’t there. I just smiled and waved.”
Because Williams was the first black Miss America in history, she suffered from a backlash.
She explains, “Some [people] didn’t think I was black enough.”
If that wasn’t enough nude photos taken two years earlier ended up surfacing and as a result, she was stripped of her title.
In an interview featured in the latest issue of People magazine, Vanessa Williams speaks candidly about the molestation she endured at age 10, “it didn’t paralyze me, and I don’t dwell.”
She describes what happened in an excerpt from her upcoming memoir. She was visiting family friends in California who had an 18-year-old daughter, Susan. One night, Susan walked in on Williams while she was sleeping.
“Family friends who had a daughter invited me to visit their friends in California with them. The family we stayed with had two kids. Susan, who was 18, smoked, drove a car, and was the epitome of cool. (My friend) Nancy and I slept in the den. One night Susan crept in. She told me to lie down on the rug. I was confused. Are we going to play a game? As I tried to make sense of it, Susan pulled down the bloomers of my cotton baby-doll pajamas.
‘What are you doing?’ I asked. ‘Don’t worry – it’ll feel good.’ I lay there paralyzed. What was going on? I didn’t speak. She kept at (the molestation) for I don’t know how long. She slid my bloomers back up and whispered: ‘Don’t tell anyone.’ I climbed into my bed, trying to figure out what had just happened.
For years I kept Susan’s visit to myself. I didn’t really understand until college. I was with with my boyfriend and it hit me and I blurted it out: ‘Oh my god – I was molested!’ After that trip I felt something change in me.”
The book, co-authored by Williams’ mother Helen, also chronicles the rebellious streak that resulted from the abuse (she smoked marijuana and had an abortion as a teenager), and how traumatic it was to suddenly remember the incidents of molestation and realize how they’d impacted her. Vanessa, 49, a mother of four also shares that she attracted death threats and criticism from the public during her short run as the first black Miss America.
According to Vanessa, “The New York Daily News ran a photo of Bruce (my boyfriend) and me – and the response was, ‘Oh my God! She has a white boyfriend!’ My mother received death threats.”
Vanessa’s mother, Helen, recalls, “I was so proud of her. But someone wrote that they were going to throw acid in her face. People sent notes: ‘YOU’RE DEAD, B*TCH.’ We were so worried. We had no idea there’d be all this anger and hatred.”
Williams revisits the Penthouse nude photos that led her to give up her Miss America crown in 1984. Though she and her family were “stunned” at the time, she now embraces the scandal as part of her story.
“When my kids have asked about Miss America, those photos, or any other part of my life, I told them what I always tell them — the truth,” she writes. “After all, it was part of my journey that led me to them and to where I am today.”