[Content warning: This column contains discussion of sexual assault.]
On Oct. 29, Buzzfeed published an interview with actor Anthony Rapp—best known for originating the role of Mark Cohen in “Rent”—in which Rapp said that fellow actor Kevin Spacey had made sexual advances toward him at a party when Rapp was 14 and Spacey was 26.
This was the first time that he publicly came forward with these allegations. In his detailed account of the experience, Rapp stated that he was inspired by the multitudes of women speaking out about their experiences with sexual misconduct in Hollywood and elsewhere, and that after hearing so many stories emerge in the past couple of weeks he felt compelled to share his own story (Buzzfeed, “Actor Anthony Rapp: Kevin Spacey Made A Sexual Advance Toward Me When I Was 14,” 10.29.2017).
I applaud the bravery of Rapp and all the survivors of sexual assault who have made the brave decision to come forward and share their experiences in light of the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the #MeToo movement and hope that media coverage of sexual misconduct allegations continues to focus on the experiences of survivors.
The night the article went up on Buzzfeed, Spacey published a short statement on his Twitter account. He began by saying that he was “beyond horrified” to hear Rapp’s story, adding that he was deeply sorry despite not remembering the event. He did not outright admit to sexually assaulting a minor, to be clear; he instead wrote that he owed Rapp an apology “if I did behave then as he describes” (The New York Times, “Kevin Spacey Issues Apology to Actor After Sexual Accusation,” 10.30.2017).
It is telling and sad that my first reaction was, admittedly, a sense of surprise that he at least seemed to express remorse about his actions; this is the absolute bare minimum that we as a society should expect from people who are accused of sexual assault or other sexual misconduct. Spacey did not even take responsibility for his actions, though. Rather, he carefully chose his words to avoid any clear admission of guilt.
Spacey’s statement was lacking at best and actively harmful at worst. In the beginning of his statement, he emphasized that he himself did not recall the event taking place, as it allegedly occurred over 30 years ago. He also called the incident “deeply inappropriate drunken behavior.”
He may very well have been drunk at the time. Intoxication is not an excuse for assaulting someone, however. These details in no way justify the incident, and in fact they make him look worse in the face of these sexual assault allegations. Rather than attempting to hide or explain away the serious consequences of his alleged actions, Spacey should have simply apologized and expressed genuine sorrow for the continued pain that he has caused and continues to cause Anthony Rapp.
“Spacey’s statement was lacking at best and actively harmful at worst.”
Yet, his remark that he did not remember this event wasn’t even nearly as problematic as the second half of his Twitter statement. In the second paragraph, he changed directions, explaining to his audience that “this story has encouraged me to address other things about my life…I choose now to live as a gay man” (The New York Times).
Since publishing his apology, he has received considerable backlash, particularly from the LGBTQ+ community, for using Rapp’s accusation as an all-too-convenient opportunity to come out (The Washington Post, “‘Kevin Spacey has set gay rights back’: Actor blasted for response to sexual misconduct claim,” 10.30.2017).
These critiques of Spacey are indeed justified, for this statement does a great disservice both to survivors of sexual violence and to the LGBTQ+ community. While coming out is certainly brave and deserving of nothing but respect, Spacey’s timing makes it glaringly clear that it was clearly a calculated attempt to distract people from Rapp’s allegations.
Spacey is famously unforthcoming about his personal life, and for many years he refused to respond to frequent rumors and speculation about his unclear sexual orientation (Los Angeles Times, “Kevin Spacey thought that coming out was a good way to respond to a molestation charge. Hollywood did not agree,” 10.31.2017). By coming out in a statement that ought to have been nothing more than an honest response to accusations of sexual misconduct, Spacey blatantly attempted to use the queer community as a shield for his actions. Additionally, his statement may lead many within his audience to buy into harmful stereotypes—conscious or otherwise—that conflate queerness with molestation and sexual violence.
While Spacey’s statement is deeply hurtful both to survivors and to LGBTQ+ people, the industry response to the statement has actually been encouraging. Shortly after the Buzzfeed article and Spacey’s statement were published, Netflix announced that “House of Cards,” in which Spacey stars, would halt production indefinitely and that the upcoming season would be its last (Los Angeles Times, “Netflix halts ‘House of Cards’ Season 6 production in wake of Kevin Spacey accusation,” 10.31.2017).
Likewise, producers on the popular NBC drama “This Is Us” also revealed that, in light of the allegations, they had cut a brief line from their most recent episode in which a character gets cast in a Kevin Spacey film (Entertainment Weekly, “This Is Us removes Kevin Spacey reference from Tuesday’s episode,” 10.31.2017). These swift and decisive responses—accompanied by a massive outpouring of tweets not only supporting Anthony Rapp but criticizing Spacey as well— indicate that Hollywood, finally, might be beginning to take the rampant sexual violence within their community more seriously.
Spacey’s response is not only offensive to LGBTQ+ people, however, but is also harmful to survivors of sexual violence. Because he included a coming-out story as well as supposed justifications for his alleged behavior, the statement sends the message that Spacey is simply trying to save face rather than truly apologize for his actions.
“Survivors deserve far more than a halfhearted apology from an alleged perpetrator.”
Blaming his closeted sexual identity and momentary intoxication for making wholly unjustifiable sexual advances towards a minor is, simply and unequivocally put, shameful and disgusting. He deserves ample criticism for both his alleged actions and his specious response to Anthony Rapp’s accusations.
Survivors deserve far more than a halfhearted apology from an alleged perpetrator, let alone one giving the impression of trying to do little more than damage control for his own acting career and celebrity status. They deserve a statement that centers their own voices and experiences.
Note: If you have experienced sexual violence at Vassar or elsewhere, a Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) advocate can be reached at all times by calling the Campus Response Center at (845) 437-7333 and asking to speak with a SART advocate. You can also call the New York State Domestic and Sexual Violence Hotline at 1-800-942-6906.
[Editor’s note: Additional allegations have surfaced since Rapp’s statement, with multiple men both in the entertainment industry and otherwise claiming sexual harassment incidents perpetrated by Kevin Spacey.]
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