Terry Crews has been recognized as one of the Silence Breakers, TIME’s Person of the Year – championed for speaking out about his experience as a male victim of sexual harassment.
As we’ve previously reported, the Brooklyn Nine-Nine actor says he was groped by William Morris Endeavor agent Adam Venit at an industry event in front of his wife. The agency said they suspended and demoted Venit, however, he has since returned to work. Crews filed a police report regarding the assault and is now suing Venit and the agency for sexual assault.
In the lawsuit, Crews states Venit stared at him, “like a rabid dog, sticking his tongue in and out of his mouth provocatively.” Crews said after the assault, he turned to Adam Sandler, who was also in attendance and said, “Adam, come get your boy! He’s grabbing my nuts.”
Crews said later that evening, on his way home, Sandler called him and asked if he was alright. Crews said that he was surprised to be molested at 48-years-old. Crews said Sandler said he was shocked by Venit’s behavior.
The next day, Crews says he called his agent, also at WME, and told him the story. Hours later, Venit called Crews and apologized saying that he was not himself that evening.
Crews also met with WME chairman Ari Emanuel who apologized for Venit’s behavior. Crews told Emanuel that he feared retaliation. Emanuel told him that Venit “did not have that level of power despite his title as head of the Motion Picture Department.”
In the lawsuit, Crews said that he has suffered psychologically and has never felt more emasculated. He also said that he is concerned about Venit’s power in the industry hurting his career.
In his interview with TIME, Crews said that in the wake of the onslaught of sexual misconduct and rape allegations against Harvey Weinstein, he realized that men had a responsibility to lend credence and support to these women’s claims. Without thinking through the consequences, Crews tweeted out his own story; in his viral series of tweets, he became one of the first men to join the chorus of women speaking out about harassment.
Crews spoke to TIME about the reception to his story and why it’s imperative that men advocate for women’s rights. Here’s an excerpt of the interview:
TIME: What was the reaction like [to you sharing your #metoo story on social media]?
Crews: In a matter of hours it had become the #1 trending topic on Twitter. And I had a realization: I didn’t check with my wife, I didn’t check with my publicist, I didn’t check with anybody. I just did it. But at that moment, I was free. Until men stand up and say, “This harassment, this abuse, these assaults are wrong,” nothing will change. If I was silent, it would mean I’m consenting to all of it. I always have felt women have been able to take care of themselves, 100%. But men need to hold other men accountable. That’s my thing. I came up in the cult of masculinity, in football and the sports world and entertainment. You’re in places and guys are saying the wildest thing. People need to be called on that. You need to be held accountable for the things you say, the things you do. What it came from is literally a belief that as a man you are more valuable than a woman. The reason I have the authority to say it is because I was like it. I truly believed I was more valuable than my wife and kids. Until I had a major paradigm shift in my own life—it was like I hit rock bottom in order for me to see that I had it all wrong.
I’m here to tell you it’s not your fault. It’s not. What happened to me was a prime example. People were saying, “You should have beat him up.” I’m like, “Why is no one questioning him?” No one questions the predator. The person who is doing the harassment doesn’t even get a question. You know why? Because they just expect it. And I said, “No more.” Why are you questioning the victim here? Let’s flip it.
TIME: What would you say to people who think this is becoming a witch hunt?
Crews: Hollywood was so far into the fact that everyone thought this behavior is normal. It needs to swing all the way back. What we need is a reset. People say, “Oh, it’s a witch hunt. People could lie.” You know what? First of all, the thread of that is going to keep people right. We need to know you can’t do it. If it’s not a witch, it’s a witch hunt. If there are actual witches there, we need to stop them. 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. 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. This is something that gives my life meaning. There’s no reason why—why should I be the guy to survive Flint, Michigan; survive forty-nine years on this Earth; married twenty-eight years with five kids, the whole thing—and then I just sit in my big house and relax. This gives my life meaning. Now I know why I was put here. Let me tell you—the guy who messed with me messed with the wrong guy.
Read the full TIME interview with Crews, here.