Jennifer Garner Honored at Rape Foundation Brunch

Eric McCormack -Jennifer Garner-Getty -H 2018
Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images for The Rape Foundation

During the Beverly Hills event, three rape victims — two women and one young girl — recounted their attacks stories. "It's harrowing, it's upsetting, it's supposed to be," foundation supporter Eric McCormack said.

Both reporters and talent were instructed not to discuss politics at The Rape Foundation’s annual brunch Sunday, one day after the Senate confirmed Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court appointment despite multiple allegations of sexual misconduct. “I think I’m going to get in trouble if I start talking about it,” sponsor, Will & Grace star and the person tasked with the event’s “beating-people-over-the-head-for-money job,” Eric McCormack, told the press at Ron Burkle's Greenacres Estate.

Instead, guests deployed euphemisms like “what’s going on in our country, especially this week” (Sarah Drew of Grey’s Anatomy), while second-time honoree Jennifer Garner called it an “extraordinary time” in our nation’s history.

So inside the venue — a white tent seating 850, pitched on a Beverly Hills backyard — people held their breaths and ignored plates of salad, chicken and couscous when emcee David Schwimmer opened with, “What a weekend, huh? I don’t know about you, but I’m really struggling, I just don’t understand it.” Then his Friends-honed comedic timing kicked in. “Did anyone else see Venom?”

Located at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center, the Rape Treatment Center was founded by Gail Abarbanel in 1974 (she insists the brunch always take place “outdoors, in the light, because these forms of abuse thrive in darkness and secrecy”).

Advocates describe her facility as a “one-stop shop” for victims to report their attack to police and benefit from medical care, forensic services, counseling and even court accompaniment — all free of charge.

“It's where I took my sister the morning after her sexual assault, and I think all the women who work here are angels, especially Gail, and I could not think of a better place to be today,” said Beth Behrs (The Neighborhood) as her husband, Michael Gladis (Mad Men), mingled with fellow attendees including Felicity Huffman and William H. Macy, James Burrows, KaDee Strickland (Private Practice) and Jason Behr (Roswell), Grace Gummer, Justin Chambers (Grey’s Anatomy) and former Hollywood Reporter editor Irena Medavoy. 

“When you walk in, you don't feel like you're in a hospital,” Behrs remembered. “There's therapists right on staff to be there with you, you're in a safe environment, a warm environment, all the medical services are right there, the police that they work with are there and … I just every day thank God for this incredible organization.” 

To date, more than 50,000 individuals and their loved ones have entrusted the staff during their most vulnerable hours. One of its programs, Stuart House, specifically helps children, who would otherwise be shuttled to approximately six separate agencies to report the crimes they endure. 

Schwimmer, a member of the board of directors’ executive leadership committee, gave Garner a loving, familiar tribute: He’d recited the same speech in 2004, when the organization first feted her. Then and now, he said she remains “incredibly warm, grounded and unaffected,” an amazing feat considering “the scrutiny suddenly thrust on an actress who became an overnight sex symbol and star.”

Schwimmer reminded the guests that this is a “sweet, talented, intelligent, goofy, spontaneous and friendly West Virginia girl who, after working your butt off for years, finally gets that break." Yet a few years later, he said Garner encountered “half a dozen paparazzi yelling for you, capturing your every move on film” before her first tour of the Rape Treatment Center.

“You’ve taken some of your precious private time on the weekend to do something to benefit others, and this is what you get in return,” Schwimmer said. “It would be so easy to become jaded, angry and defeated, to want to hide or run away, to stop being interested and involved, to lose your innocent outlook, your wonder, your faith in humanity.” Yet as he sees it, Garner “fights to maintain her faith in humanity, a battle shared my the many victims of rape and sexual assault.”

Onstage, Garner had her own quip for Schwimmer (“David, I wonder how ‘warm, grounded and unassuming’ you thought I was the many, many times I auditioned for Friends"), then segued back to discuss the long fight required to destigmatize sexual assault. “It is so evident that we need to change the attitudes and conditions, the culture that renders so many victims silent and alone with their trauma," she said. "We must make a commitment as a community and as a country to ensure that there are always safe places for victims to turn for help."      

It’s a cause shared by many illustrious names in the entertainment industry. Norman Lear and Quincy Jones are also on the board of directors, as is Oscar winner Viola Davis (her husband, Julius Tennon, is part of the Rape Foundation Men’s Leadership Council, along with his fellow actor, Geoffrey Arend, and others).

Arend and wife Christina Hendricks co-sponsored the gathering, as did Friends veterans Jennifer Aniston and Courtney Cox; Grace and Frankie leads Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin; Behrs’ Two Broke Girls co-star Kat Dennings; T.R. Knight; Pauletta and Denzel Washington, Calista Flockhart and Harrison Ford, Judd Apatow and Leslie Mann; Melanie Lynskey and Jason Ritter; David Geffen; Paramount CEOs of the past and present (Sherry Lansing, Jim Gianopulos); Walt Disney Studios chairmen of now and yore (Jeffrey Katzenberg, Alan Horn); Netflix chief Ted Sarandos; and Kate Capshaw and Steven Spielberg.

Women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred — who represents 33 of Bill Cosby’s accusers, plus one victim in the New York state criminal case against Harvey Weinstein — never misses the brunch, and had lots to say about our government leadership, or lack thereof. “We need the #MeToo movement to enter the political sphere, not just be that hashtag on an internet,” she told THR. “The disrespect that was shown with the testimony of Dr. Ford, the mocking by the president, the failure to afford Dr. Ford due process in terms of an incomplete FBI investigation that excluded relevant evidence, the ramming through of a Supreme Court nominee who was not completely investigated — it is an absolute outrage and disgrace that's going to have very, very serious legal consequences. And by that I mean every single person's life is going to be affected.”