This latest boxcar on the Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck contains an ethics quiz because I have such mixed feelings about it.
Yesterday, actor and former child performer Anthony Rapp told Buzzfeed that in 1986, when Kevin Spacey was 26, Rapp was 14, and both were appearing in Broadway plays, Spacey invited Rapp over to his apartment for a party. At the end of the evening, Rapp says, Spacey picked Rapp up, put him on his bed, and climbed on top of him. Rapp says he managed to squirm away and locked himself in the bathroom. Eventually he left Spacey’s residence, and never had any further contact with him.
Rapp is now 46. He says that before talking to Buzzfeed, he never told anyone about the traumatic experience. However, Spacey’s success in his career constantly reminded Rapp of the incident. “My stomach churns,” Rapp said. “I still to this day can’t wrap my head around so many aspects of it. It’s just deeply confusing to me.”
Rapp said he felt obligated to finally tell his story in the wake of the new awareness of the sexual harassment and sexual abuse culture in the entertainment industry, sparked by Harvey Weinstein’s fall.
“And 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 many people, including myself, being silent. … I’m feeling really awake to the moment that we’re living in, and I’m hopeful that this can make a difference.”
Spacey immediately tweeted an apology, and more:
Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:
Is Rapp’s public accusation fair, responsible, and ethical?
I can honestly say that I not only don’t have an answer right now, but that I don’t even feel close to one. I look forward to the comments. Some factors that concern, and in some cases confuse me are these:
- I believe Rapp, or at least I believe that the episode was related as he remembers it now. However, old memories, even vivid ones, are notoriously unreliable.
Do I believe Spacey when he says he doesn’t remember the episode? I don’t know. The drunk excuse rings false. Maybe he was sexually assaulting so many teenaged boys at the time that this didn’t stand out as unusual.
- As described, the incident isn’t sexual harassment. It’s child sexual abuse, a crime. This didn’t occur in the workplace, or as part of a professional relationship. If Rapp had been an adult when he had the encounter with Spacey, this wouldn’t be necessarily be an offense, just plausibly misread signals.
Why does Rapp say this is related to the Weinstein scandal?
- I suppose he’s broadening the parameters. This isn’t “Hollywood power sexually exploits powerless starlets who are intimidated and afraid to speak out,” but “future Hollywood star abuses the trust of weaker colleague who never speaks out.” Spacey, at least based on the interview, didn’t threaten Rapp or pay him off. Rapp’s rationale is that the women Weinstein abused eventually accused him, so he is adopting their example and showing that silence encourages abuse.
Is that it?
- Is there any evidence that Spacey was a serial abuser like Weinstein? If Rapp’s story isn’t going to stop Spacey from hurting others, what is it for? Therapy? Revenge? Justice?
This is a kick to the gut of Spacey’s reputation and career.
- I say I believe Rapp, but that doesn’t mean that his story is provable, or that it couldn’t be a false accusation. If every decades-old accusation is going to be accepted by the public and the news media as fact, then there will be false accusers. This is where the witch hunt phenomenon takes over.
The power to destroy with a pointed finger and a terrible story is intoxicating and irresistible to some people.
- I have already written this, and clearly, many people do not understand. I find public accusations after so many years inherently unfair to the accused. In this case, I see no reason why Rapp couldn’t confront Spacey with his story in private, so he could apologize, defend himself, or make amends. That is the Golden Rule course. Attacking Spacey in Buzzfeed is cowardly.
Rapp’s not a kid any more.
- Rapp didn’t just accused Spacey of sexual assault, he outed him. Kevin Spacey has long denied being gay, which is his right. I doubt the he was fooling anyone in show business (he certainly didn’t convince me), but still, he has always insisted on maintaining the privacy of his life away from the camera and the stage.