What we need to learn about Kevin Clash and the Elmo story

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The general public still lacks an in-depth understanding of predatory behavior; the coverage of the recent allegations against Kevin Clash, the voice of Elmo, is only a painfully clear illustration of this.  The entire cast of ABC’s The View spoke endearingly of Clash as each woman said she would stand by him until his name is cleared so he can come back onto their show–all this after a second victim had already come forward.

I watched in disgust.

How is it that we are still so blind to what is right and what is wrong with sexual behavior in this country?  How is it that five intelligent woman do not realize that even at the very basic part of this story that it is wrong for an adult to engage in sexual behavior with a minor—whether it be illegal in that respective state or not?  Is it because he is a celebrity figure?

We still do not know all the details about the allegations against Kevin Clash; we know there are now more young men coming forward.  We know Clash admitted to having sex with a young man who he claimed was 18 when he was in his 40’s.  We know that the accuser recanted, was paid off by Clash and then had his name, photo and entire history blasted all over the news and Internet.  That young man is now trying to give the money back in hopes of telling his truth and reinstating his original accusation-that the abuse occurred when he was much younger than 18.

Now a second young man has come forward and is claiming Clash abused him when he was as young as 15 years old.  It has also been expressed that Clash is actively under investigation by the authorities in New York due to other accusers coming forward.

 We know, at the very least, that this man did not act in a way that is appropriate.  We know enough to be educating our young people that it isn’t okay for adults to have sexual relationships with minors.  Yet the women of The View supported Clash and wished him a positive return to national television.

In my experience, I’ve found where there is smoke, there is fire. In cases when you initially have only one accuser come forward against a powerful celebrity type—we immediately vilify that person.  Our collective conscious cannot allow us to believe that what we once thought of as a “good person” can commit a bad act.  This was my greatest fear with the Jerry Sandusky case and why I was so encouraged that the Attorney General’s office took their time and waited for more victims to come forward. When the victims did– slowly, but surely– the case against Sandusky had grown exponentially.  There was no question as to whether he committed these acts or not– in all, ten victim would come forward as well as three eyewitnesses.  Guilty.

But we do not always have the luxury of multiple witnesses or victims–more often than not you have a single accuser coming forward.  Imagine what it is like for that single victim. As a minor, they may have been abused for years by someone they looked up too and admired not understanding their own sexuality, confused as to what is right and wrong, until one day years later when they wake up and realize what happened to them was a crime.  The majority of young people who are preyed upon in their teenage years do not realize they are being abused until later in life when they reach adulthood.

The way society treats accusers does not encourage the process of coming forward causing victims of sexual abuse to wait to reporting the crimes against them. The reasons for this are myriad: Fear, Intimidation, Confusion, Shame, Guilt and many more. After all: society vilifies before it believes.  We immediately assume money is the motivator.

In fact, many offenders immediately try to pay-off the accuser to get the story to go away. Some victims take the money and go away quietly.

What most people do not understand is why.

Why would a victim simply take a check and walk away if the abuse really happened? I would ask that you place yourself in their shoes: imagine you are a victim of a high profile celebrity; you finally break your silence and come forward only to find that your name, photo and entire life history have been blasted on every news media outlet. You’ve become a celebrity but not in the way anyone would ever want to be.  Suddenly you are being blogged about, analyzed, dissected and argued over on every news program, Tweeted about and Facebooked about.   Imagine how overwhelming that can be.  Then your accuser or their attorney is blowing up your phone begging you to please end the accusation, they will give you whatever you want, money, homes, etc.

You speak to the police and realize that the stature of limitations on your case has run out so criminal prosecution is not an option. Maybe you can move forward with prosecution but your odds of getting a conviction with no evidence outside of your word are very rare and you’ll have to endure a public trial that will place you under more scrutiny than your offender.

So what do you do? How do you get justice?  What is the definition of justice for victims? 

Your accuser’s attorney says he will pay you a lump sum and your accuser will admit his guilt in private as long as you sign on the dotted line, promising to never speak of the abuse again.  For many victims, the simple admission that the person committed the acts is the justice they seek.  The money just becomes part of a legal agreement to pay for your silence–for some a silence that becomes a welcome after all the media scrutiny.  For others, it is just relief enough to know they came forward, spoke their truth and heard their offender admit guilt.  That, for many, is enough.

We pre-judge what “justice” is for victims thinking it must look like the criminal justice system.  We all know our criminal justice system does not always work and even when it works it isn’t without further victimization for the victims. I know first hand how brutal it can be to sit through cross-examination and have your entire life ripped to shreds by a sharp-tongued defense attorney who is hell-bent on making you look like the bad guy. You cannot defend yourself for fear of appearing “angry and defensive” and not “meek enough” to be the actual victim of a crime.

These cases are extraordinarily complex and cannot be summed up in a headline for society to digest. I am not saying that every person who has come forward is telling the truth but I do know that false accusations are rare– in fact, only 2%-10% of all accusations are false. Society immediately assumes a victim is out for money but what about the accused that immediately wishes to pay them off?

We need to ensure that anyone who is accused has a right to a fair trial.  We need to allow for a discourse that is fair to both parties. We need to take each of these cases as they come forward as a way to educate our society both young and old.

 Sexual assault occurs in this country at an alarmingly high rate in the time it took you to read this blog at least a dozen people were victimized in this country.  This is the harsh reality we must face.  This is what we should be blogging, Tweeting, Facebooking about. 1 in 4 females and 1 in 6 males will be sexual abused before their 18th birthday in this country.  This is what we should be outraged about. 

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