Spacey’s Nantucket case is one of the few high-profile criminal cases to emerge from the #MeToo movement.Reuters / Pool

Help me. Among the text messages sent by a then–18-year-old busboy on the night in 2016 when he alleges Kevin Spacey sexually assaulted him, that one sentiment—a plea for rescue—recurred at least five times. At a Nantucket bar, the man had been talking with Spacey, who bought him a number of drinks and, according to the accuser, pulled down the man’s zipper and started fondling him. The man texted his girlfriend throughout the incident, expressing shock, confusion, and drunkenness. At one point, he wrote that he got an autograph and “a hell of a [story].” At other times, he wrote, “Help,” “Help,” and, “Seriously help.”

The text messages and other communications by the accuser—he filmed part of the encounter on Snapchat, too—were integral to two legal sagas: the man’s civil suit alleging damage from Spacey’s “explicit sexual behavior and lewd and lascivious conduct,” and a criminal charge against the actor citing indecent assault and battery. Both cases have now unraveled. In the course of defending Spacey’s “not guilty” plea, members of Spacey’s legal team alleged that the text exchange could have been edited to remove information that showed the encounter as consensual. They also balked at the news that the accuser’s phone, which was to be turned over as evidence, had been lost. On July 5, the accuser dropped the civil case, as his attorney explained that the man felt the criminal case was enough emotional turmoil for him. On Wednesday, the prosecutor Michael O’Keefe terminated that criminal case, citing “the unavailability of the complaining witness”: The accuser decided to stop testifying.

Spacey’s Nantucket case is one of the few high-profile criminal cases to emerge from the #MeToo movement. It has thus been freighted with significance, and all along, figures who’ve been skeptical of the movement have also voiced skepticism about these particular allegations (the popular podcast host Joe Rogan, for example, called them “horseshit”). Inevitably, the dismissal of Spacey’s case will be portrayed as a setback for #MeToo, and some fans of the actor are already saying he’s “vindicated.” The truth is that the case, and the dozens of other accusations against Spacey, demonstrate why #MeToo is not only—or even primarily—a courtroom battle.

The first public claim against Spacey came in late 2017 from the Star Trek: Discovery actor Anthony Rapp, who said that Spacey tried to have sex with him when Rapp was 14 and Spacey was in his 20s.  Other accusations flooded in. (Spacey said he didn’t remember the incident Rapp referred to, but apologized for “what would have been deeply inappropriate drunken behavior.” Spacey’s representatives have since denied at least two other men’s allegations; they have not responded to all of them.) The director Tony Montana said Spacey grabbed his crotch and followed him into a bar bathroom in 2003. An anonymous former actor told Vulture about having a sexual relationship with Spacey when the accuser was 14 and Spacey was 24. Employees and former associates from the Old Vic theater in London, where Spacey had been the artistic director from 2004 to 2015, brought forward 20 complaints alleging misconduct by the famous actor. “It seems the only requirement was to be a male under the age of 30 for Mr. Spacey to feel free to touch us,” the actor Roberto Cavazos, who appeared in Old Vic plays during Spacey’s tenure, wrote in Spanish on Facebook.

The career ramifications for Spacey were swift and concrete. Netflix dropped him from his lead role in House of Cards and Ridley Scott reshot the then-forthcoming All the Money in the World, with Christopher Plummer taking the star turn. The stories that kept emerging, however, put a fine point on how Spacey had avoided real consequences for a long time. In 2012, the first year of shooting House of Cards, a crew member made a complaint “about a specific remark and gesture made by Kevin Spacey.” The show’s production company, Media Rights Capital, investigated. “Mr. Spacey willingly participated in a training process and since that time MRC has not been made aware of any other complaints involving Mr. Spacey,” the company said in a 2017 statement.

Yet reporting by CNN alleges that far more than one incident of Spacey acting inappropriately happened on the House of Cards set. Multiple crew members told the reporter Chloe Melas that Spacey had a habit of touching male staffers, sometimes by fake wrestling with them as a pretense to grab their crotches, and sometimes in yet-more-aggressive ways. One former production assistant said that Spacey had put his hand down his pants when the two of them were driving to the set, and then cornered the assistant in a trailer when they arrived. The incident “came months after the production assistant had, he told CNN, complained to a supervisor that Spacey was sexually harassing him. The supervisor’s solution was to never let the production assistant be alone with Spacey while they were on set, the production assistant says.”

Reporting suggests that Spacey’s clout kept the on-set status quo intact despite such allegations. One crew member told CNN that he did not “feel comfortable” telling Spacey to stop harassing him, adding, “That’s the worst part about this whole thing. I would love to be able to speak out about this kind of stuff and not fear.” A former camera assistant said, “Who is going to believe crew members? … You’re going to get fired.” The staffer who alleged Spacey grabbed him while driving said, “I was in a state of shock … He was a man in a very powerful position on the show and I was someone very low on the totem pole and on the food chain there.”

The accusations against Spacey span decades and a variety of circumstances, but they do suggest a pattern of behavior. Story after story alleges that Spacey brazenly grabbed men and boys who, in fear of the famous actor’s status, weren’t sure how to react. The pattern appeared to repeat in the Nantucket claims. “Jesus Christ he reached down my pants,” the accuser wrote in his text messages, later adding, “this is Kevin ducking spacey.” Rogan, on his radio show, questioned why the man didn’t punch Spacey in the face. Spacey’s lawyers say the fact that the man continued to accept drinks from and engage with the actor rather than leave demonstrates that he was okay with what was happening. Litigating the truth—questions of intention, harm, and what the right thing to do in a bizarre situation is—would have been a thorny matter for the court.

Spacey still may be called to explain his alleged behavior to a judge or jury. A masseuse is suing Spacey for sexual battery in California, and Scotland Yard recently questioned the actor over sexual-assault claims made in the U.K. Whether those situations—or any other—will lead to legal consequences for Spacey is not clear. What is clear is that the cultural and economic #MeToo reckoning doesn’t always line up with the legal one. One court victory does not mean Spacey, or anyone else with a stack of allegations that they used their power to harass others, is suddenly available as a lead actor again. It does not mean the question is closed on how to help people put in agonizing positions by the appetites of famous men.

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