Break the Silence, Break the Stigma

Each day, we are confronted with the difficult realities of sexual violence. Since the recent outpouring of stories from women accusing Hollywood producer, Harvey Weinstein, of sexual assault it seems a morning does not pass without yet another victim coming forward. Among these reports, are those of sexual violence perpetrated against the LGBTQ individuals.

Following accusations against Weinstein, actor Anthony Rapp felt compelled and perhaps a bit safer, to come forward with his own story. Two days ago, Rapp shared his story of being sexually assaulted by actor Kevin Spacey in 1986 — when Spacey was 26 and Rapp was only 14. Rapp, now 46, never told anyone about his experience and has not interacted with Spacey since that moment. Rapp has spent years dealing with the assault all on his own.

The burden of keeping such a secret for over 30 years, along with publically sharing his story, is hard enough. However, the response from Kevin Spacey to Rapp’s allegation ultimately makes the experience even harder to bear. In a direct response via Twitter, Spacey explained how he, “honestly does not remember the encounter,” that he, “owes him [Rapp] the sincerest apology” for what was “deeply inappropriate drunken behavior,” and that because Spacey has had romantic encounters with men throughout his life, he now chooses to “live as a gay man.”

First, being drunk does not exonerate someone from the responsibility of having perpetrated a sexual assault nor it lessens the seriousness of the incident. Pointing out that it was “drunken behavior,” is dismissive and feels like an attempt to externalize the blame for this act. Furthermore, not remembering the act, does not means it did not happen or that the harm done disappears. A sincere apology may be welcome, yet it is not enough to erase all the harm and pain something like this has caused. An apology does not changes how much effort has it required (and perhaps continues to require) to survive that moment and move forward.

Moreover, to put sexual violence against a minor and coming out in the same moment further punishes the victim and fuels stereotypes. To be sexually and romantically attracted to someone from the same gender, is completely separate from engaging in inappropriate use of power over someone who is vulnerable. For years, the stereotype around gay men was that they were pedophiles. Historically, gay men were attacked using such language to describe them and their behaviors. We continue to see such sentiments echoed to this day. However, let us firmly set the record straight: sexual violence is not about predation, it is about power and control. Rapp explains he considered reaching out to Spacey to talk about what happened, but never did. Rapp also explains how years later, he met with a lawyer who told him there was no case worth pursuing against Spacey. For survivors of sexual violence, there is the stigma of being targeted along with the stigma of being targeted by someone of the same gender. This stigma is heavily relied upon and used by perpetrators to help silence the victim, further amplifying the sense of power and control, which we clearly see with the story of Rapp and Spacey.

When confronted with moments like this, we are reminded that sexual violence is not gendered and that it happens to all of us. In the past year, 64% of the clients who accessed services through the Anti-Violence Project at Center on Halsted identified as cisgender and Transgender males. When confronted with moments like this, we are reminded that all victims should have access to culturally appropriate services. Systemic responses to sexual violence that are fueled by stereotypes and stigma are unacceptable and further add to the silence and guilt victims feel. From these stories, we all must feel compelled to take a stand for those whose voices have been and continue to be silenced.

At the Anti-Violence Project at Center on Halsted, we stand with survivors of sexual violence. Through counseling and advocacy, the continued support the Anti-Violence Project provides is vital to protecting our communities from violence and trauma. The Anti-Violence Project at Center on Halsted works to break the silence of LGBTQ victims of sexual violence so that their voices are heard and they can get the help they need to move forward after traumatic experiences. The Anti-Violence Project also strives to break the stigma against general myths of sexual violence so they do not continue to be perpetrated. To learn more about the Anti-Violence Project at Center on Halsted or access any of the services we provide, please visit our website at: http://www.centeronhalsted.org/AVP.html