Actor Terry Crews, who says he was sexually assaulted by a male movie executive, has been a vocal male voice in the #MeToo movement – but he’s still being ridiculed by peers such as 50 Cent. It’s essential that we support him.
I’ve always had a soft spot for Terry Crews. When I was 13, my best friend and I watched White Chicks – the 2004 comedy in which he plays a lascivious basketball player who falls for Marlon Wayans in whiteface drag – so many times that we could recite the script to each other by heart. We’d rewind the scene where Crews’ character takes Wayans out for a spin in his convertible again and again, falling about in hysterical laughter when he announced his love for the twinkly Vanessa Carlton ditty A Thousand Miles.
Years later, my affection for Crews was cemented by his trademark red carpet pose – a wacky, jazz-hands leap a metre high in the air – and by his role in Brooklyn Nine-Nine, in which he plays a sweet-hearted, anxious police officer with twin daughters called Cagney and Lacey. He has always seemed like a kind, unpretentious, delightfully silly man who doesn’t take himself too seriously, all qualities I admire in a person.
Over the last eight months, however, Crews has demanded that we take him seriously. On 10 October, he became the first high-profile man to come forward with sexual assault allegations as part of the #MeToo movement. In a series of tweets, he alleged that a powerful film executive – later identified as Adam Venit, head of the motion picture department at Crews’ former talent company William Morris Endeavor – had groped his genitals at an industry event in 2016.
Describing the alleged assault, Crews said he went through all the emotions familiar to anyone who’s ever been groped in a public place: shock, disbelief, anger, distress, helplessness. The incident happened in front of his wife, he said, and although he considered retaliating, he believed it would actually make him more vulnerable.
“I was going to kick his ass right then – but then I thought twice about how the whole thing would appear,” he wrote on Twitter. “‘240 lbs. Black Man stomps out Hollywood Honcho’ would be the headline the next day. Only I probably wouldn’t have been able to read it because I WOULD HAVE BEEN IN JAIL.”
More than half a year since Crews first shared his story, however, he still hasn’t been able to shake off questions about why he didn’t ‘kick Venit’s ass’. We saw this most recently on 26 June, when 50 Cent posted a (since deleted) photo of Crews on Instagram, overlaid with the words “I got raped My wife just watched”, and another picture of Crews that said “Gym time”.
In case anyone wasn’t sure whether 50 Cent was actually mocking a sexual assault survivor (Venit has never denied groping Crews), the rapper added his own caption.
“LOL, What the f**k is going on out here man?” he wrote. “Terry: I froze in fear, they would have had to take me to jail. Get the strap.”
Underneath 50 Cent’s post, the music producer Russell Simmons posted a crying-laughing emoji. Simmons, a friend of Venit’s who has himself been accused of sexual assault by multiple women, is known to have asked Crews to give Venit “a pass… ask that he be reinstated”. (Simmons denies all of the sexual assault allegations against him.)
It would be easy to dismiss the significance of 50 Cent’s Instagram post; to see it as nothing more than an ignorant outburst by a man with outdated ideas about masculinity and sexual assault. But while many high-profile men have spoken out in support of Crews, the rapper is far from the only person to openly deride male sexual assault victims. And Crews is not the only male survivor to have his courage in coming forward reframed as weakness for not fighting back.
More than 70,000 men are sexually assaulted or abused in the UK every year, while an estimated 12,000 men are raped. Yet toxic male rape myths – based on traditional masculine ideals of strength, heterosexuality and sexual dominance – mean that men often find themselves blamed or undermined when they allege assault. Research suggests that police have historically taken men less seriously than women when they report sexual assault, and that male victims are generally judged to be more able to fight off the attacker or escape from the scene than females. Men who are sexually assaulted are also more likely than women to try to minimise the importance or severity of what happened; to tell themselves that it couldn’t be as big a deal as it feels; that they must be overreacting.
None of this information minimises the experiences of female survivors, who are often blamed, shamed, mocked and disbelieved in other heavily gendered ways. What it does is highlight the importance of standing with all victims of assault, whatever their gender. Crews, for his part, has dedicated the last few months of his life to speaking out against damaging male stigmas and stereotypes, as well as being a vocal ally for the women of the #MeToo movement – making 50 Cent’s post seem even more offensively out of touch.
On 27 June, Crews appeared before the US Senate at a hearing for a new bill of rights for sexual assault survivors. He spoke powerfully about the “cult” of toxic masculinity and the importance of the #MeToo movement, and called for a cultural shift that would allow men to feel safe discussing assault.
“This past year we have seen powerful men in Hollywood and elsewhere finally held accountable for sexual assault,” he said in his opening statement. “We also saw the backlash survivors faced coming forward. I wanted these survivors to know that I believed them, I supported them, and that this happened to me too.”
Crews went on to explain how others had attempted to downplay his experience, despite the fact that he knew many other men who’d gone through similar things. “I have to say, the silence is deafening when it comes to men coming forward,” he said. “As I told my story I was told over and over that this was not abuse. That this was a joke. That this was just horseplay. But one man’s horseplay is another’s humiliation.”
“What happened to me has happened to many, many other men in Hollywood,” Crews continued. “And since I came forward with my story I have had thousands and thousands of men come to me and say ‘Me too, this is my story. But I did not have the confidence, or I did not feel safe enough, to come out.’”
In the last eight months, Crews has shown up again and again for women. When Time magazine named him one of their “Silence Breakers” of 2017, alongside leading female figures in the #MeToo movement, he used his interview to highlight the importance of men holding other men accountable. He has spoken candidly about how he was inspired to speak out about his assault after seeing female survivors being publicly scorned and doubted on social media. When asked to respond to 50 Cent’s post, he responded: “I prove that size doesn’t matter when it comes to sexual assault.”
In other words, he has displayed immense bravery, dignity and integrity in the face of public ridicule – and he deserves nothing but respect. My admiration for Crews, which started so long ago, lives on.
Images: Getty Images