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.