On Tuesday, Brooklyn Nine-Nine star Terry Crews appeared in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee to testify about his own story of sexual assault and to advocate for the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights. “I guess that’s why we have this full room today,” the committee’s ranking member Dianne Feinstein quipped, introducing Crews as part of a hearing on legislation to codify sexual assault survivors’ rights.
The Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights would codify certain rights for people reporting assault, like having their rape kits preserved and forensic testing subsidized, in all 50 states.
“This past year we have seen powerful men in Hollywood and elsewhere finally held accountable for sexual assault,” Crews said in his opening statement. “We also saw the backlash survivors faced coming forward. I wanted these survivors to know that I believed them, I supported them, and that this happened to me too.”
In reporting his assault, Crews said, “I heard time and time again about the rights that my predator had, but I was never told about the rights I had as a survivor. That was the wake-up call. I knew I had to be part of what was happening here today in regard to the Sexual Assault Survivor Bill of Rights.” He added, “If you know what you can do, you can actually do something about it.”
Crews said he was at a party in 2016 when the head of the motion picture department at his then-agency twice grabbed his genitals — in front of his wife. His first reaction, Crews said, “was to be violent and I immediately held back.” Asked why, the former linebacker had a ready reply. “As a black man in America,” he said, “you only have a few shots at success, you only have a few chances to make yourself a viable member of the community. I’m from Flint, Michigan. I have seen many young black men who were provoked into violence: They were in prison or they were killed. They’re not here.”
Crews said it was his wife who counseled restraint, telling him if he ever had anyone try to push him into any situation, don’t do it — but don’t give up, Crews recalled. “She trained me and told me if this situation happens, let’s leave,” he said, “and the training worked because I did not go into my first reaction. The training worked. But the next day I went right to the agency and — I have texts, I have my own conversations — and I told them this is unacceptable.”
And when he asked the agency what they were going to do about the “predator roaming your halls,” Crews said he was given every assurance, “and then they disappeared.” (The man in question, Adam Venit of William Morris Endeavor, was demoted but not fired.)
“The assault lasted only minutes, but what he was effectively telling me while he held my genitals in his hand was that he held the power. That he was in control,” Crews said of the encounter with Venit.
The experience “encouraged me to come forward with my own experience and reflect on the cult of toxic masculinity,” he explained.
“I’m not a small or insecure man but in that moment and in the time that followed I’ve never felt more emasculated,” Crews said. Watching women step forward as part of the #MeToo movement, he added, “this shame washed over me again and again and I knew I had to act.” And speak out he has — both as a victim and a man in a position to do something about it.
“I have to say the silence is deafening when it comes to men coming forward,” he said. “As I told my story I was told over and over that this was not abuse. That this was a joke. That this was just horseplay. But one man’s horseplay is another’s humiliation.”
And though he came to Congress as one man Tuesday, Crews insisted he stands on the proverbial shoulders of many. “I sit here before you just as an example because a lot of people don’t believe that a person like me could actually be victimized, and what happened to me has happened to many, many other men in Hollywood, and since I came forward with my story I’ve had thousands and thousands of men come to me and say, ‘Me too — this is my story.’” You can read Crews’s full prepared remarks below.
This past year, we have seen powerful men in Hollywood and elsewhere finally held accountable for sexual harassment and assault. We also saw the backlash survivors faced after coming forward. I wanted these survivors to know that I believed them, I supported them, and that this happened to me too.
This encouraged me to come forward with my own experience, and reflect on the cult of “toxic masculinity” that exists in our society.
As a child I watched as my father violently abused my mother, using his power and authority to dominate her. All I could think was how I wanted to protect her. How, if I get strong, I can protect her from this living nightmare.
As I grew up, this thought transformed the type of man I became. I swore I would never be like my father and yet I believed, to my core, that as a man, I was more valuable in this world. As a protector and symbol of strength, I was more worthy. That women were beneath me.
I used images of women’s body and pornography at my disposal, validating my need for control. I often cut women short of sharing personal details of their lives so they would seem less human, less real. As a man, I was taught my entire life that I must control the world. So, I used power, influence and control to dominate every situation: from the football field to the film set, even in my own home with my wife and children.
Then, in 2016 while at a party with my wife, I was sexually assaulted by a successful Hollywood agent. The assault lasted only minutes, but what he was effectively telling me while he held my genitals in his hand was that he held the power. That he was in control.
This is how toxic masculinity permeates culture. As I shared my story, I was told over and over that this was not abuse. This was just a joke. This was just horseplay. But I can say one man’s horseplay is another man’s humiliation. And I chose to tell my story and share my experience to stand in solidarity with millions of other survivors around the world. That I know how hard it is to come forward, I know the shame associated with the assault. It happened to me.
I’m not a small or insecure man, but in that moment, and in this time following, I’ve never felt more emasculated. As I watched women and colleagues in my industry come forward to share their #MeToo stories, this shame washed over me again and I knew I needed to act. I am honored to use my platform and story to help create additional civil rights protections for survivors across the nation under the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights.
Which is why the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights is a critical bill that must be enacted in all fifty states. This bill gives survivors the right to a fully government subsidized rape kit to alleviate the financial burden of seeking justice. It gives survivors the right to receive information, including access to police reports, rape kit results, and access to sexual assault counselors. And by requiring that rape kits and forensic DNA evidence be retained for the duration of the statute of limitations, this bill gives survivors the right to have time to distance themselves from the immediate trauma before making the difficult decision to report the assault to law enforcement.
This is why I sit here today with Amanda Nguyen and the Rise team. Every man, woman and child deserves to be seen as equal under the law. The Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights does just that by recognizing survivors’ basic civil rights. While we can call attention to a culture of toxic masculinity and the need to disrupt power dynamics, this bill creates long-term change and gives power and control back to survivors. All survivors must be protected and this bill must be enacted in all fifty states. Thank you.