In the late 90s and early 2000s, actress Mena Suvari was part of a crop of young Hollywood stars rotating in the era’s lucrative teen movie circuit. She appeared in the wildly popular American Pie movies and The Rage: Carrie 2, but Suvari’s career took on extra prestige when she starred in the Academy Award Best Picture-winning film American Beauty (1999). But despite her overwhelming career success, Suvari has revealed that she was struggling with substance use and sexual abuse that occurred in her teen and early adult years.
“Between the ages of 12 and 20, I was the victim of repeated sexual abuse,” Suvari told People, as part of the press cycle for her new memoir The Great Peace. When she was 13, she alleges that she was raped by “KJ,” a friend of her older brother. “Part of me died that day,” said Suvari. In a situation that is too painfully common, she processed the trauma through the lens of her own teenage self-esteem: “He used me, had fun with me and then disposed of me. He called me a whore,” she said. “I never got to have a healthy expression of [sex]. My choice was lost. And that, compiled with already not feeling seen and heard, established a concept that I would have of myself. That that was my value.”
At 15, Suvari’s manager coerced her into a sexual relationship (the California age of consent, at that time, was 18). She complied because, lacking a stable home life, she felt that she didn’t have a choice. “I didn’t feel like I had any other options or was worthy of a life that was any different,” said Suvari. And like so many victims of sexual abuse, she turned to substance use as a way to cope with the trauma. “I turned to any form of self-medicating I could find, just to get by. I was just trying to survive.”
During this time, her career began taking off. But in her vulnerability, she also entered into an abusive relationship with “Tyler.” The relationship was emotionally and sexually abusive, but she believed that she had brought the treatment on herself. In words that are familiar to so many survivors of abusive relationships, Suvari said that “I remember thinking maybe this is how relationships are: the screaming, the name calling, the abuse.”
She’s sharing her story because she hopes that someone else may find solace in their own life. “This is my truth,” said Suvari. “I hope I can help someone else see their value. If I can lessen the pain for someone else, then I want to do it, because I didn’t have that person.” The Great Peace: A Memoir is out now on Hachette Books.