On a long and still growing list of Hollywood actors coming forth with stories of sexual assault, there is an unexpected name among the accusers. Actor Terry Crews is easily recognizable for his muscular build and willingness to not take himself too seriously. He is an outspoken advocate for women, putting him right up there with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as one of my favorite gentle giants. Still, the fact that Crews is physically big and, more importantly, male puts him outside of the box in terms of sexual assault victimhood. Still he, too, received an outpouring of support after he described his own account of sexual assault in a Twitter thread last month. He did not name his assailant, but reports from Deadline and Variety named WME agent Adam Venit as the perpetrator. On Wednesday, it was announced that Crews has filed a police report regarding the incident. The fact that he is a Black man makes his actions an anomaly in the ongoing sexual assault dialogue. But Crews' seeming unlikeliness to be in this current situation is the reason why it’s so important.
Crews exercised extreme bravery by speaking out against a talent agent, one who has more professional leverage than he does in the industry. People of color are already less likely to have the same opportunities that their white counterparts do. I wrote last month about how the industry’s racism could have a bearing on the general whiteness of the group of people publicly condemning Harvey Weinstein. Because sexual assault is about power, the role of racism in Crews’ assault should be considered. What assumptions about Black men and hypersexuality could have made Crews a target? What pressure was Crews under to stay silent in the immediate aftermath?
The answer to the latter question is about more than what was at stake for Crews career-wise. There are problematic codes of masculinity that could have easily stifled the actor. Rape culture operates on the false assumption that men are natural sexual aggressors. When men admit to playing any other role in a sexualized interaction, they are often stigmatized. Men are also socialized to defend their heterosexuality at all costs. So the fact that Crews experienced harassment from a man, without responding in the moment with anger or violence, could easily be interpreted as a weakness. Crews has inadvertently pushed past an extremely toxic version of masculinity that says that any admittance of a sexualized experience with someone of the same gender calls his own sexuality into question, even if it was non-consensual.
What we can learn from Crews’ experience with sexual assault is that it often intersects, to different results, with other forms of oppression like racism, homophobia, and gender biases. Crews does not represent the majority of victims of sexual assault. He does not deserve more respect than other people for speaking out about what happened to him just because he’s a man. However, the social and cultural context deserves a closer look and reveals truths that are not at play with other survivors.