Elmo is Innocent (or Why Some People Lie)


We are quick to judge celebrities, politicians, and public figures based on gossip. Meanwhile, their lives are destroyed.


The young man who accused Kevin Clash of having sex with him while he was underage has recanted his allegations. This is good news, but nonetheless in the court of public opinion, Mr. Clash’s reputation is still affected by these false accusations.

The accusations made against Kevin Clash were potentially the trifecta of career-ending crimes:  rape, pedophilia, and the ‘crime’ (in some people’s minds, sadly) of being a gay children’s entertainer. Even the slightest implication of any of the above would have ended his career in shame forever (as a society we are just beginning to accept openly gay children’s entertainers, but do you remember the uproar when it was suggested that Bert and Ernie could be gay? And can you think of another openly gay children’s entertainer?). Even if the implication turned out not to be true.

I’ll say that again: even if the accused is tried in a court of law and found not guilty, and even if the accuser later recants their accusation, they could still lose their job, their reputation, a lot of money, and the respect of their former fans, friends, and family. In other words, a false accusation can ruin someone’s life forever. People will always wonder…why would somebody go to all that trouble to make an accusation if it wasn’t true?

Yet strangely, some people really commit to their lies. It might be that they are broke and are looking for a quick cash settlement. It might be that they were hurt personally by the accused, and wanted to hurt them back. It might be that they are mentally unstable. What we do know is that false accusations happen, and they are more likely when the accused is wealthy and famous. Go figure.

It is nearly impossible to determine the percentage of false rape (or other sexual assault) accusations, given the vastly different methodologies used to assess what is “false” or “unfounded”. There is some agreement that it falls between 2-8%, which is a very small (but not inconsequential) number. Bear in mind, this number does not include people who were assaulted but never went to the police, nor does it include false accusations that were made outside of the legal system.

Kevin Clash is one of the most respected entertainers in the world. He worked his way up from poverty with a sincere passion for puppetry. He has voiced one of Sesame Street’s most beloved characters for three decades. He is well-loved, and has won multiple Emmy Awards for his voicework. He has devoted his life to his art form, and to making children happy. It was a tragic loss of innocence for many millions of people when he was accused, and an incredible validation when the accuser recanted. Despite it having nothing to do with any of us personally, it hurt to see one of our childhood heros in this kind of sordid situation.

We are quick to judge celebrities, politicians, and public figures based on gossip. We are quick to convict based on a few paragraphs we read online or in the paper. One perceived crime and we will write a person off, and forget about it the next day. Meanwhile, their life is destroyed.

Kevin Clash is far from the first celebrity who has been falsely accused. His reputation and work have been so stellar, however, that he will (hopefully) avoid the harsh public and professional sanctions that can come with false accusations, and be able to continue the wonderful work he does with Elmo.

And let me be clear: I am not saying that there are no honest survivors or accusations of rape, or statutory rape, or pedophilia. On the contrary, sadly, there are far too many. I am not saying that it does not destroy (or greatly impact) your world to be a survivor of sexual assault. What I am saying, however, is that there are people who, for whatever reason (personal hurt, financial incentive, mental health issues) make false accusations of these crimes, and the onus is on us as an informed public to consider every accusation carefully. Ultimately, only the people directly involved can know the truth of any accusation; nobody else.

—Photo mujitra/Flickr

About Josh Bowman

Josh Bowman is a professional fundraiser, story-teller, comedian, and blogger. He has worked and consulted in Vancouver, New York, and now Toronto for almost a decade. Josh improvises around Toronto, including regular shows with Opening Night Theatre, and also blogs for the Huffington Post. You can email Josh here.. If you want to know more about Josh, check this post and this post out first.


  1. I watched the documentary about Kevin Clash this past summer on PBS and was very impressed by him, so when the accusation came out, yes, I felt a bit dismayed and heartbroken – and felt relieved and triumphant when the accuser recanted.

    It brings up a point that I struggle with sometimes, though: believe, or don’t believe, the accuser. Victims of sex crimes often don’t speak up because of fear of being disbelieved, so taking accusations/allegations seriously is, in that light, a Good Thing; but at the same time, my gut reaction to the Kevin Clash news was to not believe it., perhaps because I did not want to believe it. The man I saw in the documentary did not seem capable of rape. Yet, take away the celebrity factor for a second, and say a friend of mine was accused of a sex crime – I wouldn’t want to believe it there either, yet that attitude goes against my advocacy-related beliefs related to victims of these crimes. I’m not sure how to reconcile this.

    Thoughts on this?

  2. John Schtoll says:

    My showed this post to my wife last night and her response was pretty amazing.

    “Get away from the crosswalk thing, the pill thing and word it this way. What if 2% of women who are raped were killed by their attacker, would anyone say that a woman dieing from her attacker is rare”

  3. It’s actually rather difficult to have any public and rational conversation about the issues here – because as soon as you do there is the Tsunami of voices that will call out over the percentage of people who are sexual assaulted and then do not speak out.

    It is odd how many voices there are attacked to people who just can’t separate issues and handle them rationally. I hope that this time those voices will be kept to a minimum, but I know from experience that they are always in the wings waiting to call out.

  4. I’ve seen people ignore false accusations on the belief that acknowledging them would hinder real victims of crimes from getting justice.
    It’s pretty nauseating to know that there are people who’d turn a blind eye to someone’s life being destroyed soley on the basis of a another person’s word.

  5. John Schtoll says:

    I wonder about the numbers you gave and why we as a society call 2% ( I will use the lowest number) as a small number, in reality it isn’t and if used in other contexts it would never be called small. Some people have even used the terms RARE and EXTREMELY RARE when using the number of 8%.

    Would you consider it rare (or small) if 2 out of every 100 people who crossed a crosswalk got hit and killed by a car, or how about if 2 patients out of ever hundred who talk a certain pill died from the pill.

    I think context is everything, some people (not you obviously) don’t want to talk about False accusations and would rather assume they don’t exist OR are RARE.


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