Ellen DeGeneres’ mom has a message for other parents of abused children, ‘Believe them’

Ellen DeGeneres’ interview with David Letterman’s “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction,” in which the comedian discusses being sexually abused by her stepfather as a teen, premiered on Netflix Friday. And it was followed by an apology from her mother.

In a statement shared exclusively with NBC’s “Today,” Betty DeGeneres, 89, commended her daughter for coming forward and expressed remorse for not believing her at the time.

“I know now that one of the hardest things to do is to speak up after being sexually abused,” said Betty. “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 DeGeneres recounts sexual abuse: Stepfather groped me, tried to break into my room

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"I wish I had the capacity to listen to her when she told me what happened," Betty DeGeneres said in a statement apologizing for how she handled her daughter's revelation that she was sexually abused by her stepfather. (Photo: Jason Merritt/Getty Images for GLAAD)

The talk show host spoke about the sexual abuse, which she first revealed in a 2005 Allure interview, in a conversation with Letterman for the second season of his Netflix interview series.

DeGeneres shared that her mom married “a very bad man” when she was a teen.

“This is the man that hurt you?” Letterman asked. 

“Yeah,” DeGeneres repeated, hesitating to elaborate on the topic. 

“Is that it? I’m fine if that’s it,” Letterman said, graciously offering his guest an out.

But to her credit, DeGeneres did not take the opportunity to change the subject.

“It’s a really horrible, horrible story,” she said, “and the only reason I’m actually going to go into detail about it is because I want other girls to not ever let someone do that.”

DeGeneres explained that her mother and stepfather had a “very, very sexual relationship, which was also very uncomfortable for me.”

Making matters worse, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer soon afterward and DeGeneres’ new stepfather would grope her breasts under the guise of checking her for lumps. 

“He told me when she 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 said. “He convinced me that he needs to feel my breasts, and then he tried to do it again another time.”

DeGeneres described how an additional incident escalated to the point where she climbed out her bedroom window in an attempt to flee the house when he attempted to break into her room.

“He tried to break my door down, and I kicked the window out and ran ’cause I knew it was going to go more, to something,” she said. “And I didn’t want to tell my mother because I was protecting her, and I knew that that would ruin her happiness, and she was happy with him, even though he was a horrible man.”

All these years later, DeGeneres says she still battles with guilt.

“I’m angry at myself because, you know, I didn’t (resist),” she told Letterman. “I was too weak to stand up to (him). I was 15 or 16.”

But she seemed to realize there was plenty of blame to go around, adding that she wishes her mother would have cared as much about her feelings and believed her.

Despite what happened, DeGeneres said their relationship has been “fine” because she’d looked after her mom her whole life. “So, I just kept taking care of her. I didn’t really let it get to me.”

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Still, she said she now regrets having been more concerned with her mother’s well-being than her own: “I should never have protected her. I should’ve protected myself.”

The 61-year-old explained that when she told her mother about the abuse “a few years” later, she didn’t believe her.

“Then she stayed with him for 18 more years and finally left him because he changed the story so many times,” she continued. “She’s apologetic but, you know, it is (what it is).” 

Toward the end of her “My Next Guest” interview, the “Seriously…I’m Kidding” author acknowledged the two had discussed “a lot more than I even intended on covering.”

She then deadpanned, “(I’ll) go home and talk to my mother.”

Contributing: Maeve McDermott

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