Why Terry Crews Talking About Being Sexual Assaulted Is a Game-Changer

Oct 11, 2017 at 3:23 a.m. ET
Image: Kevin Winter/Staff/Getty Images

When I got home last night and saw that Terry Crews was trending on Twitter, I thought I had missed an especially amazing episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Turns out, it was something much bigger than that.

Like many other celebrities, yesterday afternoon, Crews took to Twitter to weigh in on the allegations of sexual assault and harassment made against Harvey Weinstein. But rather than simply lending his support to those accusing Weinstein of sexual misconduct, Crews went one step further and shared his own story of being sexually assaulted by a Hollywood executive.

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Yes, you read that correctly: A 6-foot, 3-inch, 240-pound former football player was sexually assaulted. Specifically, according to Crews himself, the assailant “groped [his] privates” — the male equivalent of a pussy-grab.

Naturally, your first reaction is probably “Well, what was he wearing? Was it something too provocative?” Except it likely wasn’t, and if I had to guess, he was probably wearing a suit. Little-known fact: A man wearing a suit is “asking for it” as much as a woman wearing a mini-dress. So can we please retire this asinine clothing-as-a-reason-for-sexual-assault theory once and for all?

What Crews’ example illustrates so perfectly is the fact that in most of these cases, it isn’t because a woman is wearing a certain outfit or is too weak or frail to fight back or is thought of as someone who could easily be taken advantage of that leads to sexual assault — it’s a power differential. In this situation, a high-level Hollywood exec attempted to assert his authority over a brawny and physically strong black man — a clear power move.

Along the same lines, this also helps to explain why it takes some women so long to come forward with allegations against powerful men like Weinstein, Bill Cosby and Roman Polanski — or even not-as-powerful men like family members, friends or acquaintances. Being afraid of losing work or respect, facing retaliation from the assailant’s supporters or simply not being believed are all completely legitimate reasons people sometimes take years to come forward.

Other times, it takes a while to process what happened and overcome the feelings of guilt or shame typically associated with being the victim of sex crimes. Perhaps worst of all is the accusation that the person coming forward about their sexual assault is only doing so for the attention and fame. Using this logic raises the question: What did Crews, an already-famous athlete and actor, stand to personally gain from speaking up?

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What’s more, Crews starts off his set of tweets by saying that the Weinstein situation is giving him PTSD. And no, he’s not using it in a joking “I ate so much pizza that if I see another slice I’ll get PTSD” way; based on the tone of the rest of his messages, he meant the mental health issue where exposure to a traumatic experience similar to one from your past causes anxiety and distress.

PTSD is an inescapable part of living after a sexual assault for so many people, and one that is routinely belittled — most frequently by powerful men, including the president — as either being all in our heads, a sign of weakness and/or our sneaky way of getting attention.

Again, what does Crews stand to gain from talking about the mental health effects of his sexual assault? Right — nothing. In fact, coming forward like this potentially put Crews at risk of ridicule or possibly jeopardizing his ability to maintain his “big tough-guy” image in order to continue to book certain types of acting roles.

What happened to Crews is yet another example of power differentials and white male privilege at work and speaks volumes about the motivations behind sexual assault and the ways those who have been assaulted handle it. Crews opened up about his own experience not to diminish the impact of the many women who have come forward regarding Weinstein, but to support them and challenge the notion that people who have been sexually assaulted look or act a certain way.

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