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‘I believed no one would believe me’: Terry Crews’ powerful testimony on sexual assault

Crews initially didn't think people would believe him if he went public. Tuesday, he told his story to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Terry Crews testifies on the Survivors' Bill of Rights. CREDIT: C-SPAN
Terry Crews testifies on the Survivors' Bill of Rights. CREDIT: C-SPAN

Terry Crews knows that what happened to him is hard to believe. He knows what people see when they look at him, if they know anything at all about his biography: An actor whose build betrays his history as a professional football player, a man who looks like he can take care of himself.

So many preconceived notions that people tend to have about sexual assault — who the perpetrators and victims are, how and where and when it can occur — are rattled by Crews, who came forward last fall to say that, in February 2016 while attending a party with his wife, he was groped twice by a Hollywood executive.

“When my assault happened, quite honestly, I probably would have been laughed out of the police station.”

He later named his assailant, WME agent Adam Venit, and filed a police report. And Tuesday morning, he appeared before the Senate Judiciary committee to advocate for the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights’ alongside the bill’s author, Amanda Nguyen, who was just nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

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It reveals something both about Crews’ celebrity and the heightened public awareness about, and investment in, the experiences of sexual violence survivors that the hearing was completely full. And it was surreal to see a room full of politicians and advocates speak eloquently and with such specificity about sexual assault — citing statistics on rape kit backlogs; asking, as Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley did, “what more can we do to better promote justice for victims in the criminal justice system?” — while an alleged serial sexual predator serves as president.

Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) asked Crews about the details of his assault. Noting that he seemed to be “overt and direct” to her, she wanted to know if he’d behaved that way in the moment, “or if this is a new you.”

“I was very vocal, immediately,” Crews said, adding that while his first reaction was to get physically violent, he held himself back.

“Why weren’t you?” Feinstein cut in. “You’re a big, powerful man. Why didn’t you?”

“Senator, as a black man in America –” Crews started, and then he sighed.

“Say it as it is,” Feinstein said. “I think it’s important.”

So Crews went on:

“You only have a few shots at success. You only have a few chances you make yourself a viable member of the 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. She said, if you ever get goaded, 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 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. We left.

But the next day, I went right to the agency. I have texts, I have phone conversations, and I said, ‘This is unacceptable.’ And I told them how I almost got violent, but I didn’t. I said, ‘What are you going to do about this predator that you have roaming your hallways?’ And I was told, ‘We’re going to do everything in our power. We’re going to handle this, Terry. You’re right, it’s unacceptable.’ And then they disappeared. Nothing happened.”

His assailant called to apologize, Crews said. “Like, ‘my bad!'” Which did not satisfy Crews. “We’re not talking about, you stepped on my foot by accident… You assaulted me. Assaulted. And I fully expected them to, first of all, to fire this individual, and that didn’t happen. I expected there to be an investigation and that didn’t happen.”

“It was hushed up?” Feinstein asked.

“It was hushed up,” Crews said. “And in the culture at that time, I believed no one would believe me if I went public.” It was the Me Too movement and the victims of Harvey Weinstein that “inspired me to tell my story.”

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But while Crews has been moved by the female voices of Me Too, he is dismayed by the reluctance of men to do the same. “You’re talking about a complicit system,” he said, alluding to everything from the Brock Turner case — “his father says, ‘We shouldn’t ruin his life because he’s having a good time” — to the rampant misogyny in Hollywood, “where they view the casting couch as a perk of the job.”

Crews talked about identifying both as a victim of sexual assault and as a participant in the patriarchal culture that facilitates and tacitly endorses the objectification and degradation of women. “I’m not pointing a finger,” he said. “I, as Terry Crews, was a member of this toxic, masculine world. Did I rape anyone? No, but I was complicit, because I looked the other way.”

Can you quantify the impact of Me Too? Crews says he was assaulted less than two years ago. But at the time, “When my assault happened, quite honestly, I probably would have been laughed out of the police station.” It was just over a year later that “the Me Too movement took full swing, it was actually safe to come out… It’s definitely a different day than when my assault happened.”

Crews said he’d experienced some retaliation since speaking out. After appearing in the first three movies in the Expendables franchise, he was essentially booted from the fourth, told by producer Avi Lerner that if he didn’t drop the sexual assault charges against Venit, “there’d be trouble.” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (R-MN) asked if Crews would be in the film, and Crews said no.

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“Simply because, this same producer, he’s under his own sexual assault investigation, and abusers protect abusers,” Crews said. “And this is one thing I had to decide, whether I was going to draw the line on. Am I going to be a part of this, or am I going to take a stand? And there are projects I had to turn down.”

“I, as Terry Crews, was a member of this toxic, masculine world. Did I rape anyone? No, but I was complicit, because I looked the other way.”

Near the end of the hearing, Crews returned to a theme he’d touched on several times over the hour: Toxic masculinity, the viewpoint that to be a man means to “sleep with as many women or people as you can,” to be “macho” in this stifling, dangerous way.

“What’s happened is, people have put all these other extraneous things that have nothing to do with masculinity into the mix. So you have very, very confused men, who are now saying, ‘That’s not masculine. You’re not a man if you’ve been molested.’ And that has nothing to do with it.’…

What kind of man would I be if someone was to touch my son and he felt like he couldn’t tell anyone? Or if I say, tell me if someone does this do you, but then I didn’t tell? It’s about being vulnerable, but it’s also about being authentic… You literally have to go to other men and say, this happened to me. This happened to me. And all of a sudden, everything breaks. All of a sudden, everyone can talk.

I’ve been in the NFL! I’ve been with the toughest, most strong guys ever, and we’ve talked about these things and been in tears together. We came out of this thing more manly than when we went in.”

There’s been a much-documented rush to rehabilitate the handful of perpetrators who have been ousted from their jobsjust their jobs, not even from society, really, and definitely not from their freedom as citizens. Harvey Weinstein, who reportedly abused and raped women for decades with zero consequences until, like, eight months ago, is permitted to roam all of New York and Connecticut until his trial begins. He could go back to Socialista, if he wanted to, and see if that plant is still there.

An impulse, however well-intentioned, to protect the rights of the accused, has a tendency in cases of sexual violence to disregard completely the rights of the accuser — an individual who is trying to report on a traumatic, violent experience.

What Crews spoke to, and what the Survivors’ Bill of Rights codifies, is the need to protect due process for victims who, within the binary structure of our justice system, are positioned against their alleged rapists, who are granted all the rights of the accused.

“It seems like the rights that you see out there are always for the guilty,” Crews said. “But the rights are actually there to protect the innocent. When you look at the culture with men not holding other men accountable, it turns into something that no one wants: A community that looks the other way while men, women, and children are being raped… We can stop this now. This is fixable. But we do have to hold people accountable.”