Saturday, 12 January 2013

Celebrities and child abuse

With current sensationalistic stories regarding child abuse in the media, parents may be wary of letting their children interact with strangers for fear of abduction. These incidents are rare, which is why we recoil in horror each time we read about them.  The reality is that children are more at risk of abuse in their own homes from family members than some strange predator.

Source: Pola and Klaus Kinski
Following the recent revelations in her autobiography Kindermund, Pola Kinski, daughter of Klaus and half sibling of Nastassja, reveals a harrowing account of sex abuse by her father, from the age of 5 until 22. She tells how she lived in fear and was reduced to nothing but a plaything. Furthermore, she pleads for the public to stop idolising a man who violated his child's trust and robbed her of her childhood. Sadly, Pola is not alone. An abundance of money and fame is not enough to satisfy the dysfunctional abusive celebrity. His desire to take what he wants overrides any kind of rationale. 
The media often confuses sex abusers with paedophiles. There is a clear difference. Paedophilia is a medically recognised illness that is characterised through a manual called DSM, Diagnostic Statistic Manual. Despite psychologist's claims of 'personality types', there are really no set features, that distinguish paedophiles - each will come with their own individual psychological and social background, but what is consistent is their repulsion towards their desires for children. A sex offender, on the other hand, is someone who clearly chooses to violate children because they want to. These kinds of behaviours are not carried out amongst higher primates such as monkeys; they project a scent that steers familial members well away from their young. Their sole objective is to protect their young. Therefore, if we are supposedly more intelligent, why do we hear of such taboos? My own conclusion is that abuse, be it psychological, physical or both, are embedded in notions of children as the property of the patriarchal figure..  

Many cases, such as that of Mackenzie Philips, the daughter of John Philips from the Mamas and Pappas, undoubtedly stir chills. Family members, particularly her stepmother, Michelle, came forward and denied the allegations. Mackenzie was stigmatised as a woman who suffers from drug and mental health problems, implying that her testimony is untrue. Did anyone ever question why she's so distraught? I can understand her perfectly. But she is not the only one to be derided for her testimony.  
Mackenzie and John Phillips,
Tatum O' Neil and Ryanin Paper Moon
Poor Tatum O'Neil, a child star who candidly spoke of the sexual abuse she suffered, was derided by her vile father, reduced as a spoilt brat going off the rails. Is it any surprise to us that she would react in such a self-destructive way? Our parents are our teachers for social behaviour. How we react to life is reflected by the messages and the kind of nurturing we experience. We do not exist in isolation.

Unfortunately, the law is not equal. In the UK, current government legislation and policies are based on child protection and prevention, but this only covers the interest of the child once allegations have been made. Having worked with many child abuse cases, what appears to be consistent is that the child is made to feel guilt, shame, powerless and dirty, as if it's their own fault. The child in question not only faces interviews that exceed the child's maturity, but is also faced with biases and prejudices. Firstly, the child's testimony needs to be assessed. Secondly, the mother, if present in the family, will often deny the allegations and accuse the child of lying and trying to disrupt the supposed harmony of the idealised nuclear family. Avoidance and denial are also recurring patterns in many cases, where the protective self will block out these disturbing memories as a coping mechanism. The tragedy lies in the justice system, which does not give children a voice, without bias.

Our familiarity with celebrities is an uncomfortable one. They entertain us, break the monotony in our lives. For some, they provide shallow aspiration figures. Therefore, when we hear of celebrities abusing their children, it makes us uncomfortable. Our familiarity with their status forces us to look deeper. I remember for years being unable to watch Woody Allen's films, which I used to love. Recently re-watching Hannah and Her Sisters sent chills down my spine, particularly the scene where Allen, playing the neurotic hypochondriac Mikey, says 'child molestation - half the populations is at it'. He should have added, 'including me'. Let's re-write the scene, with Allen positing, 'I'll make a confession but only through my characters, let's make light of my dark thoughts and actions. My disregard for abusing a young vulnerable child who I choose to marry.' 
Woody Allen, Mia Farrow and Soon Yi Previn,
As I've said, there is no particular type of abuser. The public personas of these celebrities depict supposedly forthright and decent individuals, such as Bing Crosby. Crosby, the devout catholic drunk who instilled fear into his children, has been subject to disturbing revelations by his son, Gary, who tells of being whipped until he drew blood and who, too, was silenced and ridiculed by his family, deriding him as winging and self-pitying without pausing to consider the evidence. Poor Gary, I believe you. If only others could be more open to you and give you support as opposed to deriding you. I also feel for Phil Spector's sons, Gary and Donte, abused and molested by this dysfunctional little man who despite the fame and fortune was lashing out at the world and his family. Let's not forget Simone Signoret's daughter, actress Catherine Allegret, who had been abused by her stepfather Yves Montard. And further implications of child abuse by Serge Gainsbourg. Daddy recorded a song called Lemon Incest in 1984 when Charlotte was just 12… what's equally disturbing is that the song was one of France's all time top hits. Who the hell is buying this shite?

The reality is that families are dysfunctional: we do not choose our parents but we need to listen to all children, regardless of how painful the truth is. We must not protect those who wield power, abuse their children, and then pretend that it didn't happen. As contributors to the vast fortunes that these celebrities amass, while others work for less than a pound sterling a day, aren't we also guilty of dismissing a child's pleas?

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