So Russell Simmons—music mogul, author, producer, and longtime vegan—made headlines by writing on his social media that the novel coronavirus would not exist if the world was vegan. A recent Instagram post he shared said, “COVID-19 was caused by eating animals.” And the post was followed up with a heartfelt message about the importance of going vegan.
As a result, many vegans online rushed to his defense and shared this story widely.
But here’s the problem. Russell Simmons is also an accused rapist.
According to the New York Times, at least a DOZEN women have come forward with stories of sexual misconduct at the hands of the Def Jam Recordings co-founder. And these accusations aren’t new. They’ve been going on since at least 2016.
Setting aside the truthfulness of Simmons’ post (USA Today rules such statements to be partly false, which tracks with reporting from The Nation), this piece has been a long time in coming. Every time his name falls out of a fawning vegan’s mouth, my stomach lurches.
The fact that Simmons is an accused rapist matters.
Even from a strictly strategic point-of-view, it’s remarkably bad optics to celebrate someone credibly accused of rape in an era of #MeToo, especially after the likes of Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein.
Is an accused rapist really someone we want to invite to the cookout?
A common defense for praising Simmons appears to be that an accusation doesn’t equal a conviction, which is a weaker defense than a square of single-ply toilet paper during a bout of explosive diarrhea.
According to the Washington Post, fewer than 1% of rapes lead to convictions while at LEAST 89% of victims experience emotional and physical repercussions.
To be clear, convictions are basically nonexistent. Verdicts like those against Cosby and Weinstein are shocking because they are so rare. The crime of rape goes largely unpunished. And when your net worth is estimated at $350 million, rape is virtually consequence free.
Vegans are so desperate for celebrity validation that it doesn’t matter if that validation comes from a person credibly accused of sexual assault.
Here’s the deal. Much of animal advocacy is predicated on the fact that we should extend our understanding of justice to include victims with whom we do not share the same species, a concept with which I wholly agree.
In terms of sexual assault, this means recognizing that animal agriculture is built on a foundation of unconscionable mass sexual violence against all animal bodies. Period.
Unfortunately, the same people who say that other animals are no different from humans maintain the human/animal separation when it’s convenient for them.
Take these Facebook comments from Mary Finelli, President of Fish Feel. She said, “Whatever he may be accused of we can and should appreciate that he advocates for animal rights […] Would you prefer he opposed animal rights?”
This is a false binary. Nobody thinks Russell Simmons, or any celebrity, should oppose animal rights. We just need to pick a better poster child. Perhaps even someone who doesn’t have a dozen allegations. This should be a fairly uncontroversial ask.
We’re not talking about someone who is merely an imperfect messenger. We’re talking about an alleged rapist.
This also reveals that some animal rights advocates are regrettably liars. They don’t care about justice for victims of sexual violence. They will happily exploit sexual violence as a concept when it is conducive to achieving their goals, but they are as selective about their victims as the larger, animal-exclusionary society they critique. And that is a danger because it cheapens the movement as a whole. And I don’t mean the animal rights movement. I mean the movement to protect all victims from sexual predators!
We can’t say that accusations of sexual violence against women don’t matter if wealthy men with power advocate for animals.
Here’s a novel idea, and hear me out, When women come forward to talk about their experiences of sexual assault, believe them. When famous men say something that we agree with, vet them. When rape apologists expose themselves online, intercede. And for Pete’s sake, let’s all stop being so goddamn thirsty for celebrity affirmation.