In the past week a slew of sexual assault and harassment allegations have been leveled against veteran Hollywood actor Kevin Spacey.
It started with Anthony Rapp coming forward with the first public sexual misconduct allegations against Spacey on October 29. Since then more men have come forward to tell their own story of sexual harassment or assault.
The allegations span four decades and two continents and demonstrate a very familiar pattern of abuse. A pattern of taking advantage of young, impressionable industry hopefuls and then using veiled threats to keep them quiet.
But the story of Kevin Spacey has also placed a spotlight on a different kind of sexual abuse.
As Buzzfeed reports, for the past four decades Spacey has used the closet to protect himself from any repercussions from his actions. He “weaponised” the closet and manipulated it so that his alleged victims did not feel safe coming forward.
He used the closet as a veil of protection in two ways. Firstly, the young men he allegedly abused and harassed did not want to “out” him by coming forward with their allegations, and secondly, some of his victims were also fearful of being “outed” themselves if they went public with their claims.
LISTEN: We need to talk about Kevin Spacey. Post continues after audio…
Buzzfeed spoke to a journalist who was allegedly sexually harassed by Kevin Spacey when he interviewed him for a story in the early 2000s. The interview, which took place at Spacey’s office at the Old Vic theater in London, went well but then Spacey invited the journalist for some drinks with some friends.
Soon after they arrived at the bar, Spacey began aggressively groping the reporter.
“He just kept reaching between my legs and, you know, just grabbing my dick,” he told Buzzfeed. “I would move his hand away, and say something that I thought was pretending was funny or whatever at first. And then I was starting to get annoyed by it, and that was pretty clear.”
“I got up to leave at one point, and [Spacey] sort of grabbed me, and tried to make me stay,” he continued. “I ended up sitting back down. He kept rubbing my leg. I moved seats. He came over and sat next to me again. I was trying not to make a big scene, because I had an assignment to write about him.”
The night ended with Spacey cornering the journalist and yelling at him for rejecting his advances.
“This man was screaming in my face outside of the main bar area, red-faced, spit flying out of his mouth, screaming at me with fury because I didn’t want to f**k him. He was actually saying that I did want to and I was a coward. That was his tactic. It was unbelievable.”
From this account, it seems as though Spacey may have used the ‘closet’, or the stigma about homosexuality, to blur the lines of consent. Perhaps it wasn’t that a man didn’t want to sleep with him – it was simply that the man wasn’t accepting his own sexuality. A manipulative move that likely made it harder for his victims to speak out.
The journalist didn’t want to write about his encounter because it would out Spacey as gay.
“I consider that a pretty important principle: You don’t out people,” he said. “But it tied my hands. If I were to publish a story about Kevin Spacey sexually harassing me on the job … there’s no way without making it quite clear that he likes guys.”
In the end, the journalist and his editor decided to publish his story without his byline. The journalist had no more contact with Spacey and he only came forward with his story after Spacey came out earlier this week.
“It has occurred to me since then that there’s this weird way that Spacey had discovered that the closet would shield other things,” the journalist said. “Being closeted has for him enabled him to use this privacy claim as a shield against anybody looking closely at his actual behavior. And then it may have served as this strange, protective mechanism, to say, ‘My whole sexual life is off limits because of my sexuality.'”
Buzzfeed also spoke to Mark Ebenhoch, a now openly-gay man who worked as a military advisor on the set of Spacey’s 1995 movie Outbreak.
He said Spacey had a group of young, male assistants who would hang around his trailer on set, and were often referred to as his “harem”. One day Ebenhoch said one of the young men approached him “out of the blue” and invited him back to Spacey’s trailer.
“They asked flat out to engage in a sexual act. It was enough to stun me. It blew me away,” he said.
Ebenhoch, who is now openly gay, turned down the offer and actively avoided Spacey for the remainder of his time on set for fear of the rest of the cast and crew finding out about his sexual orientation.
“As a military adviser the last thing you’d want anyone to know is that you were gay,” Ebenhoch said.
Stories like this demonstrate how Spacey used the closet as a weapon to silence his victims, and as a shield to protect himself from any repercussions of his very deliberate pattern of sexually abusive behaviour.
Only now when Spacey has outed himself do his victims feel safe enough to come forward and share their stories.
LISTEN: Kevin Spacey is problematic.