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.