Gabrielle Union Says ‘The Color Purple’ Helped Her Go ‘From Victim To Survivor’ After Teenage Rape

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Gabrielle Union has spoken publicly about her experience with sexual assault, but now the actress is revealing the book that helped her heal after being raped as a teenager.

In a new clip from the PBS series The Great American Read, Union shared that a classic piece of literature gave her the courage to move forward following her rape.

“I first read The Color Purple when I was 19,” Union says in the interview. “I had been raped and I found myself trying to go from victim to survivor.”

The book by Alice Walker features the story of a young black woman beaten and raped by the man she believed to be her father. It’s been reimagined as both a Broadway musical and a film starring Oprah Winfrey. Union came across the story after her mother recommended the book following her traumatic experience.

In her 2017 memoir, We’re Going To Need More Wine, the 45-year-old actress detailed how she was raped during her sophomore year of college at UCLA. A stranger entered the Payless shoe store she was working at and held her at gunpoint while he sexually assaulted her. The nightmarish ordeal caused the actress to seclude herself in her home for over a year, leaving only to attend court hearings and therapy sessions. The man who raped Union was sentenced to 33 years in prison after his history of robbing other stores was uncovered, but that did nothing to quell the fear the actress lived with following the incident.

Union’s mother recommended she read the book, which focuses on the bonds of sisterhood and women overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles to take control of their lives and find happiness.

“It gave me my hope, it gave me inspiration, it gave me a passageway out,” Union says, attributing Walker’s brutally honest depiction of rape as something she identified with. The fact that the book didn’t gloss over the ugly consequences of sexual assault helped Union relate to the main characters. It also pushed her to move past her own horrific experience.

“The person that was raped at 19 died that day. And who came up out of the ashes, the rose that bloomed out of concrete, is the smarter, stronger, braver, more resilient person. To put it simply, it was a book that saved my life,” Union says in the clip.

The actress is just one of many female celebrities opening up about their experiences with sexual assault and sexual harassment. The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements in Hollywood have spurred women in all industries to demand transparency, equality, and respect from their male peers. Women of color in particular face an uphill battle when it comes to gender parity and sexual assault as their experiences often go unheard and the communities they belong to mean that crimes like rape and sexual harassment often go unpunished.

Union speaking up about her own experiences will hopefully encourage more sexual assault survivors to share their stories and fight for change, just like Walker’s book spurred the actress to take back control of her own life.