The Perfect Victim

This was actually written in summer 2018 after actor Terry Crews’ testimony before the US Senate re his sexual assault by an agent at a Hollywood event. It never found a  home but I decided to share it here, as a follow-up to conversations I’ve had in this space re #metoo because, unfortunately, not much has changed.

On the subject of sex crimes, it is said, and it is true, that there is no ‘perfect victim’, but when actor Terry Crews said during his June 26th 2018 Senate testimony “I knew I had to be the example”, he underscored that in some uncomfortable ways he is the ‘perfect victim’ to illuminate certain shortcomings in the culture post #metoo.

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The #metoo movement exploded in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein allegations and the super producer’s subsequent fall, and when Crews made the decision to add his voice, it was with the awareness that survivors are often not believed or are shamed. “I wanted these survivors to know that I believed them, I supported them, and that this happened to me too.” Since coming forward, Crews has been a persistent voice across media – and through the courts where he has brought action against his alleged assaulter, and now through lending his voice to legislation in support of sexual assault survivors – on the subject of “toxic masculinity”, speaking to the macho default that has other some men ostracizing, shaming him, and calling him weak.

On his show Brooklyn 99 and in films like, recently, Deadpool 2 and The Expendables film franchise from which he has walked away after being pressed by the producers to be silent on his assault, Crews is the epitome of masculinity. “I’m not a small nor insecure man,” he said.  Yet, the very thing that makes people like rapper and Power producer Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson troll Crews, implying that he was is less than a man, after his Senate testimony, his impressive physicality, is the thing that makes him the perfect counter-point to comfortable narratives about victimhood.

Crews is a big man, who by his own testimony was courageous enough to be vulnerable and authentic in a culture – the culture at large, and the culture of Hollywood more specifically – that discourages these traits in men. Moreover, he is a black man in a culture that attaches danger to blackness.

Crews said that his size and race did factor in to how he responded in the moment when allegedly groped without his permission at an industry event by a Hollywood power player, agent Adam Venit. He noted that he had seen, growing up in Flint, Michigan, the fate of black men conditioned to respond in anger – that fate, prison or death. Working in Hollywood since the end of his NFL career, Crews was mindful that Hollywood has its own built in power dynamics given that it’s a place where people go to pursue dreams, with some, usually men, holding the key to those dreams. Mindful as well that “as a black man in America, you only have a few shots at success”, and that to allow oneself to be provoked in to violence – even if one is not the aggressor – would be to risk not just his dreams but potentially his freedom and his life.

“My wife (Rebecca King-Crews) for years prepared me…she trained me,” Crews said, “if this situation happens, let’s leave. And the training worked.” He spoke to the feelings of shame he felt after the assault and of the ways others have tried to shame him since speaking out, but of feeling emboldened to lend his voice, alongside rape survivor Amanda Nguyen, co-drafter of the Survivors Bill of Rights and founder of RISE, to legislation to increase protections for sexual assault survivors.

What makes Crews’ story perfect in this moment, something Crews understands having spoken to the gaslighting of victims, is in illuminating that sexual assault can happen to anyone –anyone can be vulnerable, no matter their size, because it’s about power, and that society still provides safe haven for abusers – answering the other question about why survivors tend to be reticent about coming forward.

“I sit in this committee just as an example because a lot of people don’t believe a person like me can be victimized,” Crews said, adding, however that “since I came forward with my story I have had thousands and thousands of men come to me and say #metoo”.

Crews, as imperfect as any victim, because, in case it needs to be said, there is no perfect victim, and victims shouldn’t have to be perfect to be believed and supported, continues to dialogue on this issue, singling out black women for their support and tangling with his loudest critics (because even if his very size and strength prove that it’s not all about size and strength, some simply don’t want to get it). The conversation continues.

 

 

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