In October 2017 actor and former football player Terry Crews made a shocking announcement. He alleged that he had once been sexually assaulted at a party by a “high level Hollywood executive.” While Crews received an outpouring of sympathy, the rumor mill went wild with speculation about who it could have been. And after a few weeks, Crews named the person he maintained was responsible.
Terry Crews, once a linebacker and defensive end in the NFL, turned to acting after retiring from football in 1997. He planned to use his drawing skills – he’s a talented artist – to go into a special effects crew. But then he got bitten by the acting bug. Slowly he won more and more roles, and these days he plays a main character in the award-winning sitcom Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
Crews has always been outspoken about what his life was like before he achieved success. He grew up with a cruel, alcoholic father. “He abused my mother. There was a lot of physical violence in the home,” he told NPR in 2014. And as an adult, Crews suffered from depression and addictions to food and pornography.
But he overcame all these things. And in 2016 Crews released a series of videos on Facebook to encourage other men to speak out about, and effectively fight, pornography addiction. Pornography, he said in one of the vids, “changes the way you think about people.” He explained why he thought it was dehumanising. “People become objects. People become body parts. They become things to be used.”
And in the following year, those words would become something of a precedent. In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, in which the powerful movie producer was investigated for alleged rape and sexual assault, Crews came out with his own allegation. A Hollywood executive, he said, had once groped and objectified him.
In a series of tweets posted on October 10, 2017, he spoke out. “This whole thing with Harvey Weinstein is giving me PTSD. Why? Because this kind of thing happened to ME,” he wrote. “My wife n I were at a Hollywood function last year n a high level Hollywood executive came over 2 me and groped my privates.” When he and his wife reacted, he said, the man “just grinned like a jerk.”
“I was going to kick his ass right then – but I thought twice about how the whole thing would appear,” Crews went on. “‘240 lbs. Black Man stomps out Hollywood Honcho’ would be the headline the next day. Only I probably wouldn’t have been able to read it because I WOULD HAVE BEEN IN JAIL. So we left. He called me the next day with an apology but never really explained why he did what he did.”
Then Crews revealed why he hadn’t taken the matter further. The alleged perpetrator had the power and influence that Crews himself didn’t have. “I let it go,” he said. “And I understand why many women who this happens to let it go.” The actor said that although the person in question “knows who he is” he was waiting to “compare notes” and “gain a position of strength.”
“I understand and empathize with those who have remained silent. But Harvey Weinstein is not the only perpetrator,” he wrote. “Hopefully, me coming forward with my story will deter a predator and encourage someone who feels hopeless.” And indeed, the story had a huge impact. Many people, including other celebrities, pledged their support for him.
On November 8, 2017, celebrity gossip website TMZ reported that Crews had filed a police report about what happened. “Because the alleged incident, involving a still-unnamed suspect, occurred last year and within the statute of limitations in Cali, it’s possible Crews coming forward could trigger a criminal investigation,” it claimed.
And not long afterwards, on November 16, 2017, Terry Crews named the alleged abuser on Good Morning America. It was Adam Venit, a talent agent with William Morris Endeavor (WME). Crews explained exactly what had happened. Venit had, he alleged, made sexual gestures towards him and then approached. “I stick my hand out and he literally takes his hand and puts it and squeezes my genitals,” Crews recounted.
Then, Crews said, he had pushed Venit away but that didn’t dissuade him. He groped the actor again before leaving him alone. “I have never felt more emasculated, more objectified. I was horrified,” Crews said. He explained that racism was one of the things that had made him keep the incident to himself. “If I would have just retaliated in defence, I would be under the jail right now.”
On November 13, 2017, Crews made another tweet about the case. He claimed that Russell Simmons, another powerful figure in the entertainment industry, had sent him an email asking him to reconsider his action. “Give the agent a pass, ask that he be reinstated,” read the email, which Crews posted on his Twitter. Underneath it, Crews wrote, “NO ONE GETS A PASS.”
For a little while, it seemed Venit would not get a pass after he was suspended by WME. But then, on November 27, 2017, news hit that he was back at the agency, albeit in a demoted capacity. “Upon his return Monday, Venit made a tearful apology to staff at the agency’s morning meeting, according to sources,” The Hollywood Reporter wrote. Crews simply wrote on his Twitter, “SOMEONE GOT A PASS.”
Crews then took the step of filing a lawsuit against both Venit and WME. In December 2017 news outlets reported the details of it. Crews was alleging that Venit “viciously grabbed [his] penis and testicles so hard that it caused [him] immediate pain in a blatant and unprovoked sexual assault.” Furthermore, the actor claimed that Venit had “engaged in prior sexual predatory acts all of which WME was fully aware.”
Crews’ lawsuit is not the first to be filed against WME. In 2011 a black ex-trainee lodged a $25 million suit against the agency alleging racial discrimination. And in 2014 they were sued by a former assistant who claimed age discrimination. But the Terry Crews case is already much more high-profile than the others.
On December 6, 2017, Crews was named by Time as one of their “silence breakers” – their People of the Year. He gave an interview to the magazine about everything that had happened so far. “Until men stand up and say, ‘This harassment, this abuse, these assaults are wrong,’ nothing will change,” he said.
“I have people coming to me saying, ‘Hey, man. You could ruin this guy’s life.’ Very clever. That’s a very clever thing to say. But he ruined it when he did it,” he continued. “All these people need to be disciplined into knowing what is acceptable and what isn’t. The only way to do that is by holding people accountable every time… The guy who messed with me messed with the wrong guy.”
It could be a long time before matters come to an end. On December 7, 2017, Crews spoke to Extra about the case. “I was trying to stand with the women… because people were calling them liars,” he said, when asked about why he’d come forward. “I watched my mother get beat, I watched my mother go through this stuff, and I said, ‘I can’t stand for this.’”
Ever since he made his allegations, Crews has been using Twitter account to support other people who have come forward with their own claims. Almost everyone is in agreement that a major change needs to happen in Hollywood, and at the moment Terry Crews is one of the people leading the charge. Hopefully, that change will come sooner rather than later.