What to do when someone you admire is accused of sexual assault or harassment
As a sexual assault survivor, the recent, ongoing coverage of male celebrities accused of victimizing women and men has felt like a rollercoaster ride. On one hand, it’s triggering, reminding me of my abuse at every turn. But on the other, it feels righteous as hell.
I’ve felt a small amount of triumph each time a victim has stepped forward with their story. Strangely, it’s helped to validate my own experiences as a survivor of assault. The rage I’ve felt each time I read a new testimonial is therapeutic in its own way.
While not the healthiest way to cope, this mentality of “good men vs. bad men” helped me get through the constant onslaught of sexual assault stories.
Until I heard about George Takei.
Upon learning of Mr. Takei’s condemnation of Kevin Spacey (following news of assault allegations against Spacey), actor and model Scott R. Brunton came forward with his own story from almost 40 years ago — one that accuses Mr. Takei of undressing and groping him without his consent while Mr. Brunton was passed out.
To say the news shocked me would be an understatement. This is Sulu we’re talking about! A character whose re-run adventures sparked my love for sci-fi. This is a man whose political activism I have idolized, appreciated, and emulated. This is one of the good guys!
The validation I’d felt when survivors came forward wasn’t there anymore. I realized that, though Mr. Takei has always seemed so funny, kind, and politically conscious, that doesn’t mean he’s incapable of doing horrible things. Just because he’s my fave, it doesn’t mean he’s not problematic.
Wrestling with this realization has been tough.
As members of the public, we begin to feel like we know the celebrities we follow.
We support their works, we interact with them on social media, and we learn little tidbits from their lives. We think that we know these strangers because they give us access to parts of their worlds — but we don’t really know them. Mr. Takei seems like a great man in media and on Twitter — but that doesn’t mean Mr. Brunton’s allegations can’t be true. I had to face that.
Just as I began to come to terms with the accusations against Mr. Takei, I discovered that another man I admire had been accused of assault.
This time the accusation is against U.S. Senator Al Franken, and his victim’s story comes complete with photographic proof.
Los Angeles radio host Leeann Tweeden bravely came forward to tell a story of the Democratic senator kissing and groping her without her consent while they both toured with the USO in 2006. A comedian at the time, Senator Franken has since apologized, explaining that it had been done as an offensive “joke” — but there’s nothing funny about sexual assault or the powerful men who think they can get away with it.
Yet again, a man who many of us considered “one of the good ones” has let us down.
Just like Mr. Takei, Senator Franken is a person whose political and social causes have inspired and motivated me. The warm place in my childhood memories that Star Trek and Sulu inhabit are also home to Mr. Franken and old reruns of Saturday Night Live I watched after school.
These assault accusations have obviously darkened the fondness I had for these celebrities — so what do I do now?
Some fans may feel the need to fiercely defend their favorite celebrity. They might insist that the person they know would never do something like that. But they are only defending their own opinion of the person. Sadly, that awesome guy they’ve built up is rarely real.
Others might decide to doubt the victims’ stories all together. They might wonder why a survivor didn’t come forward sooner; they may grasp onto instances from the survivors’ pasts to try and discredit them.
But arbitrarily choosing whose story to believe or not, solely based on a celebrity’s likability, robs victims of their justice. We must always listen to survivors, even when their stories are hard to hear.
There isn’t an easy way to react when someone you respect or admire is accused of sexual assault or harassment.
But the devastating realizations or feelings of betrayal that we experience are nothing compared to the lifelong pain and trauma these men have inflicted on their victims.
With this in mind, the only substantial thing we can do in a situation like this is support survivors and hold our faves to a standard that tells them we won’t ignore their transgressions.
No making excuses, no victim-blaming, and no ignoring the truth.
This isn’t over. There is no telling who will next be exposed as a sexual predator or harasser, but that doesn’t really matter. They don’t get to control this narrative anymore. They’ll no longer be given the benefit of the doubt, whether they’re our “fave” or not.