Does the Celebrity Culture Facilitate Child Abuse? Featured

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After a year of trials, Ian Watkins - the frontman of Welsh band Lostprophets - pleaded guilty to eleven child sex-abuse charges; the most harrowing of which included the attempted rape of a one year-old baby. In light of this appalling case, we must ask ourselves: is there more that can be done to prevent celebrities like Watkins from abusing their high-profile status' for evil?


Shockingly, the trial is not the first time Watkins’ desire for young girls has been exposed. In October 2006, Watkins met up in a hotel with a 16-year-old girl from Boston, who he had met during a Lostprophets concert. She dressed in a schoolgirl's outfit and he filmed their encounter. In October 2008 he filmed himself having sex with another 16-year-old girl, who was also a Lostprophets fan. These girls may have been above the age of consent, but barely. Exploiting fans for sex is wrong in itself, but when those fans are so young, alarm-bells must start to ring.


Last year saw the reportage of posthumous revelations of ‘Sir’ Jimmy Saville’s multitudinous offences against children throughout his high-profile career. Operation Yew Tree, a government mandated investigation, has since been established to interrogate such crimes. However, Watkins’ arrest uncomfortably redirects our attention to the present day. As Deputy Chief Inspector for South Wales Police, Peter Doyle, attests, like Saville, ‘Watkins exploited his celebrity status in order to abuse young children’.


Although we’d probably assume these perpetrators acted without the knowledge of their family, friends, managers and band members etc. it seems that such an assumption would be naïve. Saville’s legacy revealed that scores of presenters, actors, and other periphery workers at the BBC were intimately acquainted with his predilection for young children, and in some cases, even facilitated abuse. It begs us to ask the question: how can Watkins' band-members, managers and assistants not have known about the fact that he had been sleeping with under-age girls? Moreover, if they did know, why was he not questioned earlier, before more serious crimes could be committed? Concealing important information such as this is a crime in itself. Some may caution against over-vigilance, yet, when the emotional and physical well-being of children, and adults, is at stake, diligence trumps laxity.


Of course, peadophiles gain access to children when they are not celebrities, as the recent April Jones case proves; yet, there seems to be a certain potency that the position of power that fame can provide. Watkins used this power to gull two women into performing sex-acts on their own infant children, and make them available for him to abuse; he sent one woman the chilling text message, ‘if you belong to me, so does your baby’. Our society is obsessed with the cult of celebrity: their faces plaster our magazines, dominate viewing-time, fill commercial advertisements, and, of course, master the air-waves. The nation actively builds ‘celebs’ into demigod-like figures. Arguably, how can we be surprised that two (perhaps) mentally-imbalanced, desperate, naïve women followed Watkins’ instruction - the extremest, worst instruction imaginable? We like to think our moral compass’ are immutably fixed, unswayable, yet, these women prove that the desire for fame and fortune can melt even the solidest of basic, human principles: the undying love for ones own child.


In the annals of time, Watkins will not be remembered as a music-star, but a gross criminal; Lostprophets’ songs are unlikely to be given any air-time, and their following has already severely depleted. As former South Wales music journalist Gavin Allen argues, ‘their legacy has just vanished’. If this troubling case teaches us anything, it is that more attention must be paid to celebrities who exploit or seem poised to exploit their status for perverse means; including the barely legal sex in which Watkins partook, an alarming precursor to his graver crimes. Vigilance costs nothing. Stars may be presented, in all events, as ideal, untouchable, powerful figures, yet they are people too. People, time has taught us, can do horrible, horrible things to each other.


Stephanie Skarbek

I'm in my second year studying English Literature and Language at Leeds. In my spare time, which I never seem to have a lot of, I like to draw, play the drums and watch Korean films. I also write short stories, and spend my time investing in comic books and cheap clothing on ebay!

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