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Male celebrities, media and sexual abuse


male celebrity status, BBC, rape, football, sexual offences, Savile ReportThe devastating effects and consequences of male celebrity status.

The celebrity culture which enabled Jimmy Savile to abuse children throughout his career still very much prevails today.

The Savile report, a review of TV presenter Jimmy Savile’s prolific abuse of children during the decades he worked for the BBC, was released last month, and footballer Adam Johnson has recently been found guilty of sexual activity with a child in 2015.

The details that emerged in both the report, compiled by judge Dame Janet Smith, and Johnson’s trial serve to highlight the devastating effects and consequences of the male celebrity status.

It has become clear that celebrities’ high profile serve as an advantage to them when abusing children and women and that often their behaviour is not completely undetected or unreported, but is ignored and downplayed.

First and foremost, these men use their fame to lure their victims in.

Two of Savile’s victims, a boy and a girl who were aged 10 and 12 at the time, said that they had gone to the BBC Studios to watch Top of the Pops and were invited in to see the show by Savile. Afterwards, he took them back to his dressing room, offering them some fizzy drinks and biscuits before raping the boy and sexually assaulting the girl.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, another of Savile’s victims, who was sexually assaulted by him on holiday in a caravan park, described how she was lulled into a false sense of security by his celebrity status and as a result of seeing him regularly on TV.

She told Woman’s Hour’s Jenny Murray, “I’d seen him on television and oddly that gives one a sense of knowing him, even though I didn’t, and that’s why it was safe to go in to look at the trailer.

“I wouldn’t have done that with someone I didn’t know. My Mum was always telling me not to go away with strangers, so I had that information as a child, but that was the thing – he wasn’t a stranger. It was like I knew him because I’d seen him on TV”.

Similarly, Johnson took advantage of his status as a young, wealthy and attractive football player to groom a 15 year-old fan, essentially using a couple of signed football shirts as a bargaining tool.

After their first meeting in the footballer’s Range Rover, when he gave the girl the signed shirts, he messaged her asking for a ‘thank you kiss’, and during their second meet up put his hand down her trousers, sexually touching her.

After the jury’s verdicts at Johnson’s trial Detective Inspector Aelfwynn Sampson, of Durham Constabulary, said: “Johnson exploited his position as a local hero to take advantage of a young and impressionable girl.”

And a spokesperson for the children’s charity the NSPCC also said that Johnson “cynically used his celebrity status as a professional footballer to groom and sexually abuse an impressionable schoolgirl”.

“Even though he was fully aware of her age he continued the relationship without any concern for the profound and damaging impact it might have on her”.

There could have been no doubt in Johnson and Savile’s minds that what they were doing was grossly wrong, but they persisted regardless.

It seems that – and looks like that – as male celebrities they feel untouchable, acting under the belief that they are above the law, exempt from the rules and regulations that ordinary people are governed by.

Sadly, for a long time society has consolidated, or at least not disputed, this idea, and this was of particular significance in Dame Janet’s report. She emphasised the culture of “reverence and fear” towards celebrities at the BBC, an atmosphere which she claims still exists today.

It has also been reported that one of Savile’s victims was told to “keep your mouth shut, he’s a VIP”, a comment which seems to be symptomatic of the attitude towards celebrities in general.

Perpetrators often use their status to silence their victims, both directly by telling them that they won’t be believed, and indirectly in that the victims are afraid of accusing well-known and popular public figures of such atrocious acts.

Celebrities are also commonly seen to be generous, charitable people, using their fame and wealth to raise awareness and money for various causes, which makes it even harder for victims to speak out and be believed.

Charity work is cleverly used by perpetrators of abuse to polish their image and deflect attention away from their appalling actions behind the scenes. In Savile’s case, he was so twisted that he combined the two, abusing children who were being helped by the charitable organisations he was ‘supporting’.

Several victims of celebrity pedophiles have reported being berated for daring to attempt to tarnish the names of such supposedly good-hearted, giving men.

Sadly, none of this is overly surprising given that we live in a patriarchal society with a strong celebrity culture, although it is worth noting that these power structures are not confined to the celebrity sphere.

Sexual abuse is all too common within institutions dominated by men in positions of authority – the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England, private schools, and the police force to name a few.

Women and children, regarded as the most vulnerable, weak and ultimately unimportant people in society, are the obvious and prime target. Until we begin to treat everyone as equals, regardless of age, status, wealth, occupation, gender, race, and sexuality, little progress will be made.

The power structures which have enabled such horrific abuse to occur repeatedly and left victims suffering in silence need to be challenged and dismantled, and justice must be served.

The convictions and consequent ruin of high-profile figures such as Rolf Harris, Ched Evans, and Stuart Hall over the last few years signify that things are, in some ways at least, slowly changing for the better, but there still needs to be a radical overhaul of the way in which we view celebrities, and all perpetrators of abuse, and their victims.

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