What Is Justice For Kevin Spacey?

 Prosecutors in Massachusetts this week dropped a sexual assault charge against the actor Kevin Spacey, in the only case against the alleged serial sexual harasser to be brought to trial. Mr. Spacey was accused of fondling an 18-year-old man at a Nantucket restaurant three years ago, one of the few of the accusations against him that wasn’t too old to try and that involved criminal conduct. The accuser’s lawyer said that a smartphone being sought as evidence by the defense  had disappeared, then the accuser invoked the Fifth Amendment after being warned that he could be charged with a destroying evidence, a felony if he had deleted contents on his phone. When the young man continued to assert his right against self-incrimination,  the Cape and Islands district attorney announced that it was dropping the prosecution “due to the unavailability of the complaining witness.” There wasn’t much choice.

Spacey’s far from out of the metaphorical woods. Around the same time as the Nantucket accusation, the Old Vic theater in London announced that 20 people had  accused Spacey  of inappropriate behavior  during his 11-year stint as the theater’s artistic director. There is another investigation in Los Angeles.

So now what? None of the allegations against Spacey have been proven, though, as with Bill Cosby, the sheer number of them leave little doubt—but still some— that he is a serial sexual predator. Spacey’s own house of cards began falling when actor Anthony Rapp gave an  interview to BuzzFeed accusing Spacey of assaulting him at a party when Rapp was only 14.  The accusation was never proven, but suddenly more stories of sexual misconduct in the workplace and elsewhere started surfacing regarding Spacey. (There is a lot about Spacey’s conduct and problems on Ethics Alarms, here.)

Yet the fact remains that the assumption that Spacey is a #MeToo villain remains unproven by investigation or process. Where does he fall, or should he fall, on the spectrum of those who ought to be shunned in a profession based on information rather than rumors, and those who deserve the benefit of the doubt and due process? He is to the good side of Cosby, certainly, whose conduct was not only worse but to which he partially confessed and of which he was convicted in one case. He is also not close to Harvey Weinstein in either sheer mass of evidence, accusers on the record, or likely crimes committed.

Like any artist, Spacey also shouldn’t be held to the same high standard as a politician, an elected official, a CEO, a manager or a business leader, nor that of a professor, teacher, lawyer, judge, doctor or member of the clergy. Artists don’t have to be trusted; being trusted is irrelevant to their function in society. Spacey remains an excellent actor, and as such is still capable of contributing something of value to the culture. If he is employed under no-tolerance terms, and if there are professionals in the field willing to work with him, and if there are people willing to pay to enjoy his craft, why shouldn’t he have another chance?

Variety argues that he should not, in a rationalization- and poor logic-stuffed article titled, “Kevin Spacey Shouldn’t Be Exonerated in Hollywood Even as Criminal Case Ends.” 

The author, Caroline Framke, argues in part,

Just because the charges were dropped, however, doesn’t mean that many won’t (or shouldn’t) be wary of working with him again. After all, it was Rapp’s story that began the tidal wave of disdain against Spacey, a story well outside the statute of limitations for criminal charges but one that nonetheless resonated with enough people (and received enough backup in other similar accusations) to mar Spacey’s reputation for good.

“Resonating” with people is not a fair justification for ruining someone’s “reputation for good.” This gives accusers far too much power to destroy, which, unfortunately, is power that the #MeToo movement think they should have.

Sexual assault cases are so rarely taken seriously at the time the crime is allegedly committed that sometimes, telling the story on their own terms is all a survivor can do. Anyone who believes in that tried and true fact will just believe that Spacey has escaped tangible consequences for abusing his power once again.

That’s an outrageously unethical standard. Sexual assault cases are not “rarely taken seriously.” “Telling the story on their own terms” presumably means “when its too late to check the facts,” or “when it can do the must damage to the accused.” Both are wrong. Nor is not coming forward in a timely fashion (and too late to prevent other victims of the same abusers) “all a survivor can do.” It may be all a victim is willing to do, or chooses to do, but there are consequences of that choice.

And this—“Anyone who believes in that tried and true fact will just believe that Spacey has escaped tangible consequences for abusing his power once again” is the statement of someone whose ethical ground wires are anchored in sand.  If one believes that some, many or even most sexual harassers and abusers escape justice, one should therefore assume that a particular individual is guilty? This kind of ethics-free reasoning is why #MeToo is dangerous, and its influence on the culture is toxic.

… But survivors of sexual assault and the people who know and love them are more than aware of the legal system’s failings in this arena, and won’t be convinced by a single case falling apart on technicalities. Spacey would have to do a hell of a lot more than skirt the issue as he has thus far in order to win them over. But let me be frank: At this point, given the breadth of allegations against him and his own palpable disdain, he almost definitely can’t. 

This is more unethical, emotion-based junk. First of all, the complaining witness in a criminal case refusing to testify isn’t a “technicality.” More importantly, what legal system “failings”?  That accusations aren’t enough and shouldn’t be enough to cost people their livelihoods and reputation? That we don’t fire people or even imprison them based on unproven allegations (this is part of Colin Kaepernick’s claim, remember)? That before punishing and destroying people we require more than just a pointed finger by a sympathetic accuser of the right gender, color or group? That accusations have to be made within a reasonable length of time? The “failings” Framke refers to is the “failings” of not always being able to punish those who Framke is just sure are guilty.

Yeah, I’m pretty sure that Kevin Spacey has been a serial harasser. The question is what “pretty sure” should mean for an actor.

24 thoughts on “What Is Justice For Kevin Spacey?

  1. “Pretty sure”, even coming from someone I respect as much as Jack, should mean nothing at all. Absent tangible proof (my guess is that his accuser had many instances of consensual sex on his phone which he erased) there is no ethical response to this than to restore Spacey (a gay man) to his former place in society.

  2. In today’s world in which one can become an instant media sensation overnight by leveling a charge of some sex based crime against a well resourced personality, I cannot ascribe to the belief that sheer volume of claims should suggest guilt.

    Why do we not have voluminous reports of less well known harrassers? Is it because there is no potential financial or professional benefit? Maybe lesser persons have no power to get away with harrassing someone. That begs the question how does one learn when one has the power to coerce? These harrassers must be good at assessing the best time in their career to become a serial harrasser.

    When we see large volumes of claims actually going to court with victims testifying against the accused then in those cases I will feel more confident making the assumption that there is a high probability of bad behavior by the accused.

  3. Whoa! We’re talking about the theater here! Isn’t the theater just a free fire zone for gay guys to prey upon whomever they want? There are now supposed to be consequences for older gay guys introducing younger gay guys, who don’t even know they’re gay, to the glories of the gay life? What do cops and prosecutors have to do with any of this? Can’t this be arbitrated by gay guys. Who are straight people to inject themselves into this? Next thing people will be suing each other for being groped at gay bars, where gay goes go to get groped? What’s up with that? What about the word “gay” do people not understand? It doesn’t mean “earnest.”

    • By the way, I think this is the unintended consequence of what many gay gays objected to about the gay rights movement. They thought being normalized would have all sorts of adverse consequences. Be careful what you wish for, boys. You can’t have your cake and eat your cake. Unless you bake yourself another cake.

  4. This is an exceptionally well written article. In a time of rampant media bias and unvetted slandering, it’s really nice to see someone committed to genuine human ethics and honest observation of reality. If you wrote this, thank you, please write more.

    • What do you mean, “If I really wrote this?” Who else is suppose to have written it? I’ve written every post on this blog except for one guest column and the Comment of the Day, over 10,300 of them. You want more of my essays, get reading. They’re all here.

  5. The amount of accusations/accusers is not evidence and does not promote guilt. Evidence does. Not the fingers that point.

    • That’s fine, except that those who work in the field (like me) know that sexual harassment is almost never a single instance phenomenon. Multiple accusers coming out once the dam is broken is the norm. It is one reason I believe that Clarence Thomas was unjustly accused. At a certain point, the sheer mass of accusers telling similar stories do have weight, as with Cosby and the sexual predator Ohio State doctor.

  6. Scott Greenfield over at Simple Justice has had a few really good discussions recently about valuing the presumption of innocence asa real principle (and not just a legal fiction) and how that balances when you’re still pretty sure someone is guilty. His examples are OJ Simpson and Eppstein, but they’re still good reads.

  7. This entire fiasco was a liberal attempt to destroy Spacey due to him being a Conservative and (horrors!) a Trump supporter, and a friend of Jon Voight! Democrats are evil, Despicable vermin. They tried to destroy Justice Kavanaugh the same way. I am so glad this lying, false house of cards collapsed. I hope Mr. Spacey sue’s the liar and the media for this destructive hoax!

    • Well, that’s a silly analyis. If you’re going to destroy actors, why destroy Jon Voight’s friends—just destroy John Voight. Spacey didn’t endear himself to the vast show biz gay community for spending years obviously lying and saying “Ew! I’m not one of THEM!” so he didn’t have any built in support network, but it’s highly HIGHLY unlikely that Spacey wasn’t at very least a massive workplace asshole. If his cast and crew in “House of Cards” had not backed the accusations based on his conduct on and off the set, the producers wouldn’t have sunk their own profitable show.

      As for suing, Spacey is an educated man and knows what happened to Oscar Wilde.

  8. I know the purpose of using quotes from people like Framke – using their own ignorance and error against them is the clearest and perhaps most ethical way of framing a cogent argument, but it is frustrating and tedious to have to take them seriously enough to read through, much less analyze. Once in a while, I have to remind myself that these are worthless inferences, unsupported by fact or even basic legal knowledge (having little myself, I can easily recognize that lack in others) — they don’t even stand up as righteous opinion. So once in a while I have to say thank you, Jack. What you do through the vehicle of Ethics Alarms is worthwhile: all of it – whether I agree or not, in fact, most often when I don’t.

  9. Oh honey, this article is riddled with typos! C’mon…
    As for the content, it’s amazing to read how you bash other opinions (“publications”) for being illogical yet you yourself say you’re “pretty sure that Kevin Spacey has been a serial harasser”. Who are you to be pretty sure of anything? Have you spoken to the accuser or the VICTIM – Mr Spacey? Have you heard or seen any actual evidence to make such a decision?! When will you people learn that in this great nation a person accused of a crime is INNOCENT unless PROVEN guilty!!!!!! Kevin is a phenomenal innocent actor and this whole story is truly an ugly stain on our justice system. He should never have been fired and removed from his work without there being anything other than accusations. His career is now irreparably damaged. A real shame.

    • 1. Sorry about the typos–I though I had them all. To paraphrase Dr. McCoy, “I’m an ethicist, Jim, not a typist.” There were four, and they were minor: a missing word, a repeated word, that kind of stuff, all in the first 20% of a 1000+ word piece, leaving me to believe that I somehow started my final proof in the middle. I write about 3,000 words a day in original commentary, all by myself, to keep ethics consideration out there, all while working full time, or trying to. Readers here regard the occasional annoyance of my crummy typing worth tolerating given other benefits they derive. You don’t? Swell. Then don’t visit.

      2. “When will you people learn that in this great nation a person accused of a crime is INNOCENT unless PROVEN guilty!!!!!!” You mean, like OJ? Repeating a frequently misused and misunderstood LEGAL standard and convention as if it makes any sense in the context of personal or professional decision making is proof of intellectual laziness. John Wilkes Booth was never proven guilty. Jack Ruby was never proven guilty. Harvey Weinstein hasn’t been proven guilty. Barry Bonds hasn’t been proven guilty. They’re all guilty, as is OJ, and many many others, because humans can think. If a CEO has 10 employees accuse him or unconsented touching and sexual harassment, that CEO is getting fired. He won’t be prosecuted, but the likelihood that his is guilty is so overwhelming that an organization must act on it.

      You don’t know what you’re talking about. I expect those who don’t know what you’re talking about to be less obnoxious and aggressive in expressing their views.

      As for “Who are you to be pretty sure of anything?”—well, let’s see: I’m a lawyer, I’m an ethicist, I’m a trainer and consultant in sexual harassment, I’ve dealt with the issue as a professional stage director as well as an executive in multiple business organizations.

      How’s that?

  10. I’m late, but… As an actor, I wouldn’t want to work with Spacey. There’s enough ‘there’ there to make me leery. I’m nowhere near similar to his previous ‘victims’ but I don’t like working with buttheads, and there’s WAY more evidence of his behavior being exactly that to make me shy away. I’m not in a position to ever hire him, and I’m not into rewatching movies enough to skip anything he was in (there are lots of folks choosing this). But making personal choices and business/criminal decisions are totally separate discussions. If enough people make the personal choice to steer clear, he’s got a big business problem in our industry.

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