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Why It's Important We Call Out Old Sexual Assaults Like Kevin Spacey's

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Sometimes the news isn’t as straightforward as it’s made to seem. Juliette Virzi, The Mighty’s Associate Mental Health Editor, explains what to keep in mind if you see this topic or similar stories in your newsfeed. This is The Mighty Takeaway. 

On Tuesday, Netflix stopped production on season six of “House of Cards,” a response to sexual assault allegations made against Kevin Spacey, Deadline reports. With sexual assault allegations becoming more and more common in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, you may be tempted to shrug your shoulders and think, that happened years ago, why are we talking about it now? But its important we hear the voices of survivors, even if it isn’t until decades later.

In an interview with BuzzFeed News, “Star Trek: Discovery” actor Anthony Rapp spoke out about his past experience of being sexually assaulted by Kevin Spacey. At the time, Rapp was 14 years old and Spacey was 26.

Rapp said he felt compelled to share his own story because of the many allegations made against Harvey Weinstein, “not to simply air a grievance, but to try to shine another light on the decades of behavior that have been allowed to continue because [of] many people, including myself, being silent.” 

While this claim comes in the wake of the Weinstein scandal specifically, the story of a powerful man using his authority to sexually exploit others is a pattern that has repeated itself over and over again. See: Bill O’ReillyBen Affleck, Donald Trump and Bill Cosby — just to name a few.

Because this kind of news is fairly commonplace, it can be easy to become desensitized to it. But there are many reasons why a sexual violence victim may not come out about their experience at the time it occurred. In her piece, “5 Reasons Sexual Assault Survivors Don’t Open Up About Their Abuse,” Mighty contributor Monika Sudakov wrote about some of the barriers survivors face when reporting an assault.

In addition to feelings of shame about what happened and fears of not being believed, she writes that many survivors don’t report because the prospect of recounting the traumatic event to anyone is painful — let alone the police.

Actually reporting to the police and having to testify in court in front of total strangers is even more excruciating. It was bad enough to experience it once, why would I want to put myself through it over and over again?

Unfortunately for the victims who do choose to report, the criminal justice system tends to favor perpetrators, not victims. According to RAINN, the world’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, out of 1,000 rapes, only 6 rapists will be incarcerated.

While the actual date of Rapp’s assault occurred 32 years ago (Rapp is 46 and Spacey is now 58), the reality is the mental and physical after-effects of sexual violence can be lifelong, something Rapp touched on in the interview. Of seeing Spacey now, Rapp said, “My stomach churns. I still to this day can’t wrap my head around so many aspects of it. It’s just deeply confusing to me.”

This is a feeling Mighty contributor Desire Nunez echoed in her piece, “What Nobody Tells You About the Aftermath of Sexual Assault.”

Nobody tells you the aftermath is just as horrifying as the initial incident. There can be nightmares, flashbacks and constant nausea related to the memories. In this aftermath, there is so much confusion amongst the pain. I didn’t know how to handle it… Nobody told me how to prepare for the worst or how to put the pieces of my heart back together again.

It’s important that we talk about the Kevin Spacey assault and other “high profile” cases of sexual violence because it sets a societal precedent for holding all perpetrators accountable — eventually trickling down to non-celebrity perpetrators as well. We need to take this kind of news seriously because when we do so, we are telling survivors everywhere: we care about what happened to you, we believe perpetrators should be held accountable for their actions and most importantly, we believe you — regardless of when it happened.

The reality is, every 98 seconds, another American is sexually assaulted. An estimated 17.7 million American women are victims of attempted or completed rape, and one out of every 10 rape victims are male. Yet, despite these numbers, about two in three sexual assaults go unreported.

Continuing to ignore or have a flippant attitude about sexual violence is dangerous. Just because sexual violence occurred in the past doesn’t negate its importance. We must stop discounting the experiences of survivors simply because they occurred in the past, and start supporting them instead.

If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

Photo via Kevin Spacey Facebook page

Image via Creative Commons/World Economic Forum

Originally published: October 31, 2017
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