In October, Kevin Spacey was found not guilty of charges brought by fellow actor Anthony Rapp, who alleged that Spacey assaulted him. On Saturday, Rapp spoke about the trial publicly for the first time, specifically mentioning the perilous dynamics for anyone alleging abuse in a court of law.
“A courtroom is not a safe space for trauma, that is for sure. So I also deeply understand why some people don’t pursue that angle,” he told scholar and writer Salamishah Tillet at an event at the Brooklyn Museum. “What is proof? How do you prove things? Part of the movement is so much about honoring a story, listening, being a mirror, being holding, healing. You speak about these things. Those things aren’t necessarily anything that a courtroom is at all interested in.”
Rapp sued Spacey for psychological damages incurred from an incident that he alleged occurred at a New York City house party in 1986. A 26-year-old Spacey, he claimed, groped him when he was just 14 years old. According to emotional testimony from Rapp, Spacey invited the teenager to a party at his house when they were both performing in respective Broadway shows. Upon arriving at the party, Rapp recalled becoming uncomfortable because he was very young and didn’t know anyone. Ultimately, he went into a room to watch TV by himself. Then Spacey, who was allegedly “uneasy on his feet” and visibly intoxicated, came and found him, grabbed his butt, and lifted him onto the bed. Rapp told the court he was forced to “wriggle out” as Spacey “pinned” Rapp underneath his body and tried to have sex with him. Rapp didn’t speak publicly about the alleged incident until a 2017, when he revealed it in a BuzzFeed interview.
During the two-week trial this year, Rapp referred to the alleged incident as the “most traumatic” event in his life.
“It is not the only avenue,” Rapp said of pursuing legal action. “It is an avenue. I did want to avail myself of the opportunity to see what might be possible.”
Rapp also told Tillet that he had heard about others’ having traumatic experiences with Spacey, and it was the testimony of actors and activists (especially Tarana Burke and Lupita Nyong’o) who led the Me Too movement writ large that propelled him to pursue legal action against Spacey.
“Other people had shared with me other incidents that they had experienced with Kevin Spacey over the years. I pushed my experience a little bit off to the side because many of the stories I heard were worse,” Rapp told Tillet. “So I didn’t think my experience necessarily rose to the level of those. ...Especially in Hollywood, more so than New York probably. It was rampant.”
Though Spacey was found not guilty of battery against Rapp, he still faces charges of sexually assaulting three men over a decade ago in London. He pleaded not guilty and is expected to go on trial there next year. Four other men have accused Spacey of sexual misconduct, but their charges were either dropped or not pursued.
“This isn’t a team sport where you’re either on the Me Too side, or you’re on the other side,” Spacey’s attorney, Jennifer Keller, reminded the court during closing statements. “This is a very different place. Our system requires evidence, proof, objective support for accusations provided to an impartial jury. However polarized as society may be today, it really should not have a place here.”
But to Rapp’s point, when sexual assault statistics are so unbearably bleak and retraumatization appears inevitable for the overwhelming majority of survivors operating within the criminal justice system, perhaps courts’ definitions of proof, evidence, and objective support deserve examination and expansion.