The Gucci family, as well as the fashion industry as a whole, was rocked this week when shocking claims of child sexual abuse were made public with the filing of a lawsuit.
Alexandra Zarini, who is the great-granddaughter of Gucci founder Guccio Gucci, filed a lawsuit on Tuesday in the California Superior Court in Los Angeles accusing her former stepfather of molesting her for more than 15 years and claiming that both her mother and her grandmother covered it up, The New York Times reports.
Zarini claimed that Joseph Ruffalo, whose career in the music industry saw him working with artists such as Prince, began sexually abusing her when she was only 6 years old. She alleged he would routinely get into her bed at night while naked and molest her.
Zarini said the earliest memories of abuse are from when she was 6 years old and Ruffalo was her mother’s boyfriend, The Los Angeles Times reports. Some time after her grandfather died, Zarini got into her mother’s bed, seeking comfort; however, Ruffalo was also in the bed, naked, and when she woke up, her hand was on his genital area, she claimed in the suit.
Zarini went on to allege that her mother, Patricia Gucci, and her grandmother, Bruna Palombo, were both aware of the assault but did nothing to stop it, and instead pressured her to keep quiet about it, The New York Times reports. In the suit, Zarini recalled Palombo asking her when she was 16 years old if her stepfather was sexually abusing her. When she said that he was, her grandmother allegedly responded by telling her to keep it a secret.
She also recalled trying to speak to her mother about the abuse and again allegedly being told to keep it a secret. Her family, Zarini claimed in the filing, was more concerned with avoiding “what they perceived would be a scandal that could tarnish the Gucci name and potentially cost them millions,” according The New York Times.
Zarini also alleged that her mother physically abused her; Ruffalo would then “rescue” her, but use the physical proximity to touch her inappropriately. The alleged abuse lasted until she was around 22 years old.
The abuse led to mental health issues for Zarini, she claimed in her suit, according to the Los Angeles Times. She said she grew preoccupied with cleanliness and would shower obsessively to the point of damaging her skin, and claimed she tried to take her own life in high school.
In a statement issued to The New York Times, Patricia Gucci apologized for the abuse but denied covering it up.
“I am deeply sorry for the pain Joseph Ruffalo caused Alexandra. What he did to her is inexcusable and I was devastated when she disclosed everything to me at our family doctor’s office in London in September 2007,” her statement reads. “I immediately initiated divorce proceedings against Mr. Ruffalo and set about healing my family through counseling. I am equally devastated by the allegations against me and her grandmother, which are completely false.”
Ruffalo, meanwhile, denied the accusations through a statement issued to The New York Times by his lawyer, Richard P. Crane Jr., who noted that Ruffalo had not yet been served with any charges and, as such, is not fully aware of the extent of the claims being made against him. However, he “vehemently and categorically denies” what he is aware of, Crane said.
He then pointed to Zarini’s drug use as a possible motive for the allegations.
“While married to Alexandra’s mother, Mr. Ruffalo and his wife were greatly concerned about the mental well-being of Alexandra and took steps to address her instability,” Crane’s statement reads. “Apparently, their efforts failed.”
While speaking to The New York Times, Zarini addressed her previous drug use that began when she was a teen. She eventually went to rehab at her mother’s suggestion, and through therapy was able to work through the trauma she experienced as a child, she said.
Zarini, who is now a wife and mother, said that having children inspired her to come forward, despite the backlash she expects to face from her family.
“I don’t care,” she told The New York Times. “I just want to stop this. She can call me anything she wants. I just don’t want this to happen to anyone, like my child or any child.”
Zarini’s story is supported by an unnamed school friend, who told the paper that Zarini confided in her about the alleged abuse when they were classmates; the Beverly Hills Police Department also confirmed to the outlet that the alleged abuse had been reported to them in 2019 and that there is an open case on the matter.
Zarini has asked for a jury trial, and has said that any funds she may get if she wins her case will benefit the foundation she’s building to help fight child sex abuse, per The Times.
In the only video posted to the YouTube page for the Alexandra Gucci Children’s Foundation, Zarini spoke out about what moved her to come forward. She explained that she experimented with drugs as a way to cope with the abuse, and called out her mother and grandmother for failing to protect her.
“They did not shield me. They allowed it to happen,” she said. “But I am coming forward publicly today because as hard as this is for me, I feel it is my duty to expose the misconceptions about child sexual abuse and to raise awareness that every single day, we, as a society, are failing to protect the most vulnerable and innocent among us: our children.”