Put yourself in the mind of a paedophile. To commit acts that provide your main source of sexual gratification, your need two things; access to a lot of children and an environment which provides you with the time and opportunity to select the weakest and groom them so they keep, ‘your little secret’.
Schools, churches, Scouts – these organisations have all dealt with allegations of child abuse occurring within their fray. But it is now clear that the entertainment industry has provided a near-perfect environment for child abusers, both in the UK and in Hollywood. In a recent interview, Lord of the Rings star, Elijah Wood talked about the ‘evil predators’ in Hollywood, although he later claimed that his comments were taken out of context and that he himself had never witnessed or been subject to sexual abuse during his career.
His retraction doesn’t matter. Hollywood’s dirty little secret has been common knowledge in the industry for years. And in the UK? Well, we have Jimmy Saville, Max Clifford and Rolf Harris.
Why were the abusers never exposed?
The question that baffles most people is; how and why sexual predators within the entertainment industry were able to get away with it for so long? Especially when signs that something was not quite right were obvious to many.
In his 2013 memoir, Coreyography, former child actor, Corey Fieldman detailed how he was preyed upon by men in the industry. “I was surrounded by them; they were vultures” he quotes. However, his late Canadian co-star and friend, Corey Haim suffered more direct abuse; Fieldman claims that Haim was raped by a ‘prominent movie mogul’ at the age of 11. Haim went on to suffer a lifetime of drug abuse and died, broke in 2010.
Different Strokes star, Todd Bridges also suffered abuse as a child star, claiming to have been sexually molested by his publicist.
In the 2015 documentary, An Open Secret, director Amy Berg, who previously explored child abuse within the Catholic church in the Oscar-nominated Deliver Us From Evil, exposed the prolific extent of child abuse in Hollywood. Commentators featured explain that the aspirations of the children can make them vulnerable to predators, and parents, keen to see their child succeed in the world of entertainment, often set aside typical precautions.
These two factors lead to a near-perfect climate for paedophiles to select their victims. A child molester will work in an environment where they have access to many children because, like any good hunter, they know they will not catch all their prey, only the weak ones.
The process of grooming
Rolf Harris, Max Clifford and Jimmy Saville were in the business of being liked. All three sold themselves to us as protectors of children – Savile promoted safety belts and looking after the vulnerable at Stoke Mandeville hospital, Clifford helping to bring Jonathan King to book for sex offences, Harris campaigning on television against child sex abuse, singing, "My body's no body's body but mine / You take care of your body / I'll look after mine". And all three openly abused children, completely confident that they would never be challenged. Clifford told of how he manipulated young girls to undress for him in his office, Savile inappropriately touched young girls in front of the Top of the Pops cameras, and Harris sexually assaulted an eight-year-old girl in public at an autograph signing.
The reason these men were able to be so blatant in their perverse actions is two-fold. Firstly, they were experts in the process of ‘grooming’, not only their victims, but the victims’ parents, the public, BBC executives and police. After all, how could a man who sang us, “Two Little Boys” abuse his daughter’s best friend for 15 years? Saville may have been considered odd, but didn’t his endless work for charity justify his beloved status by the British public? What people failed to realise is that a paedophile is in the business of being liked. This is the only way they can they get potential victims and their parents to trust them.
Secondly, all three men, and their Hollywood counter-parts, were in positions of power. To coerce a child into silence, as part of the grooming process molesters work their way into a child’s life, moving from spending time with them, to affection, to inappropriate touching; all the time testing the waters to see how far they can go. By the time sexual abuse occurs, the predator has created the doubt in the child’s mind. “It’s OK, this is what friends do”. “Mummy and Daddy would be mad if they knew you were getting special attention”. “If you tell, I will get into trouble, you wouldn’t want that, would you?” The victim is enveloped in emotions of guilt, shame and feeling that they are to blame, and often try and pretend the abuse never happened.
This is why allegations often come out years after the abuse occurred.
Because abusers in the entertainment industry are in positions of power, sometimes even parents will not mention abuse to the police if their child has told them of it, due to fear of harming their child’s career.
Helping the victims
Victims of child abuse can be left with emotional and mental scars which last a lifetime. Those preyed on by powerful figures in the entertainment industry can be left with an extra layer of guilt because they can feel that their ambition drove them into the path of a sexual predator. Speaking out, seeking criminal prosecution and compensation can assist the victim and their family in taking back control and rebuilding their shattered self-esteem.
Whilst we cannot guarantee men like Clifford, Harris and Savile will never be present in the entertainment industry again, as a community we must continue to view the sexual exploitation of children as the most heinous of crimes, no matter who the perpetrator is, to ensure abuse never happens on such a scale in the future.
At IBB, our personal injury team, led by Malcolm Underhill, has the expertise and knowledge to advise and represent you if you wish to make a claim following childhood sexual abuse. To talk about how we might be able to help, please phone us on 0333 123 9099, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill in our contact form. Any discussions you have with us will be in the strictest of confidence.