Gary Glitter, Jonathan King, Jimmy Savile, Stewart Hall were all convicted of child abuse. Bill Roache, Dave Lee Travis and Rolf Harris are all on trial for alleged abuse. Freddie Starr was rearrested today with allegations of sex abuse.
I started thinking about all these people when the BBC asked me to take part in a documentary about Ian Watkins (singer of the Lost Prophets) who has been convicted of some of the worst child abuse cases imaginable. There seems to be a rash of celebrity allegations and convictions. This should be viewed as encouraging that victims and alleged victims are coming forward now in greater numbers. This can mean, and I think it does, that people have more confidence in the system and they feel more comfortable that they will be treated professionally and their stories are more likely to be listened to with sensitivity.
Life long fans of these celebrities also have a dilemma as their music, programmes or artwork etc is still there to be liked, judged and played such as Gary Glitters music still being played at the Super Bowl in America and him receiving significant royalties from that.
When Michael Jackson was accused of child abuse I remember hearing many of his life long fans saying words to the effect ‘we don’t care what he’s done, even if he has done things to children. His music transcends all of that’ – and you wonder about the work and artistic legacy of many of the other accused at the moment if they are found guilty. Does looking at their work or listening to their music somehow validate their criminal activity? I certainly feel very uncomfortable listening to or reading the work of people convicted of child abuse.
Another aspect of celebrity abusers that worries me is how the media treat them. I remember on previous occasions thinking that the media must forget that these are celebrities, wherever there is a conviction their story shouldn’t be treated as an entertainment programme – but seriously reported as a criminal event where children were seriously hurt and possibly scarred for life.
I remember on one occasion when Jonathan King was released from prison the media scrumb treated him as if he was a contestant leaving the Big Brother house rather than someone that the world knows is a child abuser. If my memory servers me correctly, he was promoting his latest CD at the time.
The point is that if anybody was inclined to sexually abuse children but up to now had been stopped by social pressure or the fear of punishment then seeing the celebration of these people as opposed to the condemnation might then seem like the world has intellectually validated their behaviour. As a result that person might gain the courage to cross a line and therefore hurt a child.
The media, therefore, has a great responsibility – not only in how they report these measures, but in how they are seen to report them.
I’ve also noticed while working in parts the Pacific Rim countries talking to people about sex tourism that there are at least two different groups of people who abuse children abroad. The first are those who deliberately set out to do so, but the second are those who we might call ‘opportunistic abusers’. Sometimes overwhelmed by the exotic location and the feeling of power that westerners sometimes have in 3rd world countries. This sometimes washes away guilt and common sense and leads to criminal activity.
You cant help feeling that when people achieve celebrity, the power that gets invested in them by the public can sometimes make them feel invulnerable and so lead them to cross lines and abuse that power along with the lives of young people.