Three infamous sexual predators, Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, That ‘70s Show actor Danny Masterson, and House of Cards star Kevin Spacey, are currently in the throes of long-awaited trials. The cross-examination of Spacey’s accuser began this week, and, as to be expected, Spacey’s attorneys did their damndest to discredit him—including asking why he approached Buzzfeed with his allegations instead of a more prestigious outlet like the New York Times.
For the sake of context: Actor Anthony Rapp is suing Spacey for psychological damages incurred from an incident that occurred at a New York City house party in 1986. Rapp claims he was groped by a 26-year-old Spacey when he was just 14. According to last week’s 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 says he became uncomfortable because he was really young and didn’t know anyone, so 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 says he was forced to “wriggle out” as Spacey “pinned” him underneath his body and tried to have sex with him. Rapp didn’t speak publicly about the alleged incident until a 2017 BuzzFeed story.
This week, during five hours of grueling cross-examination from Spacey’s team—Rapp’s explanation of why he finally came forward after three decades reportedly didn’t quite please Spacey’s attorneys: “I came forward because I knew I wasn’t the only person that Kevin Spacey made advances to,” Rapp said. The statement, according to Variety, drew swift objections from the lawyers. Rapp, they argued, has told the press that actress Lupita Nyong’o’s 2017 New York Times essay about Weinstein is what inspired him to come forward about Spacey, not because he’d heard similar stories about their client. Variety reported that the time stamps on the text messages between Rapp and reporter Adam B. Vary, who authored the BuzzFeed piece, pre-date Nyong’o’s piece. Her story, Rapp said, “confirmed and cemented” his decision to speak out.
The attorneys then interrogated Rapp about why he never told his mother, whom he was living with at the time of the alleged assault, about the incident. Understandably, he noted that given the fact that he was a teenager, he and his mother didn’t often discuss sexual encounters—consensual and otherwise. “We never talked about sex at all,” Rapp told the court. “I didn’t want to worry her and I didn’t want to lose my independence.” Rapp, a then-burgeoning child actor was living in an apartment on the Upper East Side with his mother and allowed to attend industry parties and events around the city, oftentimes, at night. “I was living a [more] unusual life than most 14-year-olds.”
The attorneys also leaned on Rapp to explain why he never told his therapist about what he’s called the “most traumatic single event” of his life. “It didn’t come up in my thinking in any aspect of what I was talking about,” he replied.
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Notably, after the allegations were made public in 2017, even Spacey himself wrote on Twitter that he “didn’t remember” the alleged assault, yet apologized for it: “But if I did behave then as he describes, I owe him the sincerest apology for what would have been deeply inappropriate drunken behavior.”
“You wanted to promote the show, raise your visibility,” Jennifer Keller, one of Spacey’s attorneys, accused of Rapp when theorizing about his decision to speak to the press before mentioning the incident to a therapist. “You were on the new Star Trek streaming show, but it wasn’t clear it would be renewed in 2017 for a second season.”
Keller’s line of questioning then got even pettier as she asked why Rapp didn’t give his story to an outlet of #MeToo reporting repute, like the Times. “Isn’t Buzzfeed known for lists and quizzes about celebrities?” she asked Rapp. (Note that Buzzfeed has won a Pulitzer for a series exposing China’s mass detention Muslims.)
To further sow seeds of doubt, Keller suggested that Rapp’s memory of the events had been compromised by a theater role and that he’d perhaps conflated fiction with fact.“The rhythms of the play had kind of seeped into your subconscious,” Keller accused. Rapp admitted in his 2006 memoir that he found himself using dialogue from the play, Precious Sons, in everyday interactions. A second attorney for Spacey concluded the cross-examination by asking whether or not Rapp fabricated any of the alleged Spacey assault. “I have not,” he testified. “It is something that happened to me that was not OK.” The trial is set to conclude next week.
It must be emphasized that in addition to Rapp’s case, Spacey is currently facing 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 legal charges were either dropped or were not pursued.
While deploying victim-blaming tactics is part and parcel of defense attorney strategy, whether it’s R. Kelly’s attorney’s likening of survivors to “groupies,” or Camille Vasquez’s multilayered vilification of Amber Heard even after the trial concluded, the practice too often liberates and legitimizes harmful stereotypes and prejudices harbored for survivors everywhere. And, as a survivor of sexual violence who’s intimately aware that the frequently ridiculous lines of questioning high-profile attorneys hurl at survivors who speak out reflect a suspicion shared by scores of Americans, it never gets easier to witness survivors with far greater privilege than me—and countless others—become scapegoats.