The internet revolution of abuse-survivor tag #MeToo has led to a number of survivors coming forward about their histories of assault and harassment, but no high-profile allegation has affected me as much as Anthony Rapp’s accusation against Kevin Spacey, whom Rapp attests drunkenly made an advance at him in the 1980s, when he was only 14 years old. I generally don’t think that any case of harassment or assault merits more sympathy than another, but because I had been following the careers of both actors since my early teenage years, my devastation — and disgust — felt much closer to home this time.
Spacey, who’s decorated with two Oscar Awards and hosted the Tony Awards last summer, quickly followed up with a calculated response. He talked about how he had been intoxicated, and therefore couldn’t remember the event; he then deflected the accusation to direct the spotlight on his coming out as a member of the gay community. Many major publications, such as Reuters, immediately produced headlines about his sexual identity instead of the allegations.
Spacey tried to seem benign through his statement. I am confident that he is not.
Being a lauded celebrity doesn’t make a person immune to facing consequences for a violent act. Netflix’s decision to pull the plug on “House of Cards” after its sixth season sends a message of respect, not only to Rapp, but to all survivors of this form of abuse. More importantly, it sets a precedent for how to respond to a high-profile case like Spacey’s and promotes the idea that no matter how long it’s been since the event itself, abusers can and must still be held responsible. The emotional trauma that accompanies an assault that occurred over 30 years ago doesn’t go away; Rapp’s statement, which describes how he still can’t wrap his head around the event, is exemplary of that.
I’m wary of internet activism, and when #MeToo came around, I didn’t make a post about my own experience, despite fitting into the same demographic as the millions of other people who had shared their histories of being harassed, attacked or made to feel unsafe. What made me nervous about it, in particular, was the way that I saw people whom I deemed to be predators advocating for the rights and publicity of harassment victims and assault survivors.
I’m not the first person to describe this phenomenon as being similar to a wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing scenario. These were people who had hurt me and people who had hurt my friends, but being publicly, outspokenly feminist or anti-abuse can score some social capital — and more than that, it can further the shadow of doubt that a person would commit an act of violence, sexual or otherwise, against another. The individuals who had hurt every person making a #MeToo post or tweet aren’t all strangers in dark alleys, nor are they all people who were too touchy in a dark bar. They might be the person sitting next to you in class, or one of your favorite movie stars.
It can be hard to pick up on predatory warning signs from someone who has always displayed seemingly benevolent behavior, and it can be harder to accept those signs and be critical of them after these preconceptions of a benign character. I’m uncomfortable with the fact that one of the first feelings I recognized having upon reading Rapp’s story wasn’t about the victim himself, but about how sad I was to completely lose respect for an actor whose work I had enjoyed so much.
These automatic responses can be hard to unlearn. What comes after them, though — the active decision to trust or not trust survivors and their stories, and whether or not you so much as passively accept those who commit these attacks — is more consequential to stand by.
Shauna Bahssin is a junior double-majoring in art history and English.