With a recent surge of support for victims of sexual violence, actor Anthony Rapp shared with Buzzfeed during an interview that he was sexually assaulted at 14 years old by actor Kevin Spacey, who was 26 at the time. As far as the public understands, Rapp kept this assault to himself until he was 46 years old, a tendency for many victims of sexual assault and violence.
We wonder why so many victims choose not to report a sexual crime, but then when someone does, the assailant (especially the famous ones) either deny their involvement altogether or they brush it off with some kind of distraction tactic. Spacey’s was apparently to publicly come out as gay in his official statement per his verified Twitter account.
This move is incredibly problematic for multiple reasons. First, as if the LGBTQIA+ community didn’t have to fight off accusations of being sexual predators enough, Spacey’s choice further vilifies gay men (and the LGBTQIA+ community as a whole) by halfheartedly apologizing for “not remembering” his actions and then following that attempt at taking ownership of his actions with publicly coming out. That alone is a shame.
Second, Spacey’s choice to distract from his actions as an assailant by coming out is a familiar move. Those with status, fame, or money tend to use that to their advantage by dismissing the accusation as not being able to remember the assault due to so much time passing, or including a personal anecdote about their own struggles in life (like living as a gay many privately – a struggle many also live out and may not view as a struggle at all). An example of this kind of deferment of responsibility happened only a few weeks ago when Charlyne Yi accused David Cross of making racist remarks toward her when they initially met. Cross’s response? He had forgotten and suggested Yi misremembered the moment as well.
This tendency to put time between an instance and when it is made public and use it to dismiss guilt and responsibility is not uncommon. It speaks much to the culture victims of sexual violence must navigate. While Rapp may very well be believed and supported due to a shift in a social willingness to believe victims when they make accusations, we cannot assume all victims will be believed and see justice when they seek it out from now on.
I’d be willing to bet Spacey will appear in a likely season 6 of Netflix’s House of Cards (though no official word of renewal has been announced as of publication). I’d also be willing to bet David Cross will continue to work in Hollywood unscathed despite a fellow actor shedding light on his past transgression(s). The usefulness of forgetting a victim’s trauma for notable figures allows for rape culture to continue silencing victims. It is not enough to say you “forgot” you assaulted someone, and it doesn’t go away by coming out as gay in the same breath.
Peace be with victims of sexual assault and violence, to the LGBTQIA+ community who once again has to defend their existence and separate themselves from the stereotype of being sexual predators, and to Anthony Rapp.