Don’t pit survivors of sexual assault against each other

Photo of Anthony Rapp via
Photo of Anthony Rapp via

There are ways to have important discussions about gender inequality, but this isn’t one of them

By Rebecca Peterson, Assistant Editor


In the ongoing flood of sexual assault allegations coming out of Hollywood, there was the disturbing and heartbreaking story from Broadway star and current Star Trek: Discovery actor Anthony Rapp regarding an assault he endured at the age of 14. He described the dread and frustration of watching his abuser climb the echelons of Hollywood, becoming a respected and well-liked A-lister over the decades, even hosting the Tony Awards this past June. Kevin Spacey, the man called out by Anthony Rapp, responded by saying that he didn’t remember doing it, and if he did do it he was drunk, and by the way he wants to take this opportunity to come out as a gay man.

This approach didn’t end very well for Spacey. The LGBTQ community, one that suffers many kinds of abuses as well as the stigma developed by 1950s PSAs about the supposed danger of the gay man as a natural pedophile, has not welcomed Spacey into the fold. His Netflix series House of Cards has ended, and he has now been cut from his starring role in the nearly-finished film All the Money in the World, to be replaced with Christopher Plummer. This all excellent news and should set a precedent for how we deal with sexual predators in any industry going forward.

However, I’ve been seeing a common complaint on social media recently about the Spacey controversy coming from the feminist community (a community I very vehemently consider myself a part of). The complaint is usually phrased like this: “Well, of course they’re taking action now that a man has said something.” Or, “Notice how people are quick to throw over Spacey because a man made an accusation?”

I get where the comments are coming from—there is absolutely a discrepancy between how we deal with the statements and accusations made by women, and the statements and accusations made by men (not even getting into the statements and accusations made by trans and non-binary people, because that gets downright depressing). However, the tone of how this argument is being made is unbearably snide, completely disregards the brutal context within which Anthony Rapp made his accusation, and essentially pits male survivors of sexual assault against female survivors of sexual assault.

You can accuse me of “tone policing” all you want, but I personally think it’s somewhat egregious to say “man” in that dismissive tone when the man in question isn’t exactly working from the highest echelons of privilege. Anthony Rapp has been out as a queer man (yes, specifically “queer” as per his 1997 statement, not gay, though he said he was also “primarily homosexual” but had been in love with women before) for decades, one of the first stars on Broadway to do so. Whatever one might think of the Hollywood system, it is still a risky career move to be openly queer. Calling out Spacey, one of Hollywood’s biggest A-listers, would have taken an enormous amount of courage—the same courage far too many women have had to employ to make their voices heard as well.

There are other factors at play here; the fact that members of the LGBTQ community are more likely to be victims of sexual assault and harassment, the fact that toxic masculinity creates a terrible stigma for men who come forward, the fact that gay men are often conflated with pedophiles anyway so there’s an added difficulty when it comes to calling out members of the community knowing that some people are going to respond with “See, look, proof that gay men are predators!” It’s utterly disingenuous to simplify a complicated situation with a dismissive “Well, of course they’re doing something about Spacey, because a man said something.” It’s not “of course”—it’s honestly borderline miraculous. It’s a damn good thing.

As a member of the LGBTQ community, and as a sexual harassment and assault survivor myself, I’m glad to see justice for someone who has had to live with what happened to him since he was 14. I’m glad to see what I hope will be the start of a general cleansing of Hollywood. I’m glad to see that very few people are defending Spacey, even if they liked Baby Driver and thought House of Cards was prestige TV. There are ways of having this discussion of discrepancy in how assault allegations are treated in mainstream media without minimizing the experiences of the victims involved. It requires nuance and empathy, not a catchy, biting one-liner that fits within the confine of a tweet.

These past few weeks have been exhausting, and have forced me to relive my own stories of Hollywood sexism and abuse from when I worked in the industry, but seeing the fall of even a well-loved actor like Spacey has given me a glimmer of hope. This should be a win; not an opportunity to show how much of your feminism you’ve ripped from fucking Tumblr.