CW: This article discusses sexual assault.
In the wake of last year’s Harvey Weinstein allegations and the launch of the #MeToo movement against the widespread culture of sexual harassment and assault, beloved American actor Terry Crews shared his own story of being a victim of sexual assault.
He alleged that former Hollywood executive Adam Venit groped him at a party in 2016.
Crews has been one of the most prominent male voices in Hollywood advocating for women’s rights in support of the #MeToo movement, and he was one of very few high-profile men who shared a story of victimisation that matched the experiences of the women.
Because Terry Crews is both male and famously, imposingly strong, it forced people to reassess what they know about #MeToo in order to understand – how could this happen to him?
Crews delivered the clear and compelling answer to that question in his testimony at the hearing on the Sexual Assault Survivors ‘Bill of Rights’.
When asked to explain why he couldn’t use self-defence to stop the assault, Terry Crews gave an important statement that highlights how race, as well as gender, can render someone powerless.
“Senator, as a black man in America you only have a few shots at success,” he begins. “You only have a few chances to make yourself a viable member of a community.
“I’m from Flint, Michigan. I have seen many many young black men who were provoked into violence, and they were in prison, or they were killed. And they’re not here.”
“My wife, for years, prepared me,” he continues. “She said, ‘if you ever get going, if you ever get prodded, if you ever have anyone try to push you into any kind of situation, don’t do it. Don’t be violent.’ And she trained me.
“I’ll be honest with you, it was the strength of my wife, who trained me, and told me, ‘if this situation happens, let’s leave.’ And the training worked, because I did not go into my first reaction, I grabbed her hand and we left.”
The reality is, racism denies most black people the opportunity to defend themselves without it being interpreted as confirmation of the stereotype that that they are “dangerous”.
In a culture of mass incarceration and often-fatal police violence, black people are made painfully aware that not fighting back is necessary for survival.
Terry Crews’ story of sexual assault highlights the different intersections of power and powerlessness at play in the rampant culture of sexual harassment and assault.
#MeToo is not merely an issue of gender – it’s about a broad abuse of power, and race is one of the most significant factors that can render someone vulnerable.
People are made powerless because they’re physically weaker. People are made powerless because they cannot afford to risk sacrificing their careers by speaking out or defending themselves. People are made powerless because they know they cannot play into stereotypes, because then they will be undermined by the perception they’re overreacting, ‘crying wolf’, or crazy.
That list goes on, and it unfortunately does broadly describe the experience of being a woman.
But it’s vital to acknowledge how intersecting oppressions like race, class, and sexual orientation can intensify these dynamics of powerlessness.
Terry Crews is an important reminder that #MeToo needs to go past gender and have an intersectional approach to the cultural abuse of power.
If any part of this story brings up issues for you regarding substance abuse, mental health, trauma, or anything else, please contact Lifeline on 131114 or call 1800 RESPECT. Both are free and available 24/7.