On Sunday or Monday, the media started reporting that Kevin Clash, the voice of Elmo on Sesame Street, had taken a leave of absence after allegations that he had sex with a 16-year old boy.1 Clash admitted that, while he had a relationship with the accuser, that the relationship was “between two consenting adults”.
The Sesame Workshop released a statement that confirmed that they had been aware of these allegations since June and had done their own investigation, which found that “the allegation of underage conduct to be unsubstantiated”. They did find that Clash violated some company policy related to Internet usage, but that was it.
after the accuser’s initial meeting with Sesame Street, the accuser felt Sesame Workshop’s lawyers were trying to muzzle him … so he lawyered up with Andreozzi and Associates — the firm that represented one of the victims in the Jerry Sandusky child rape case.
I chose to not report on this in the first place since there wasn’t a lot of information and I wasn’t sure, exactly, what to write about. I don’t know enough about age of consent laws in the States (in New York, where the Sesame Workshop is located, age of consent is 17) to comment. I do know that up here in Canada, age of consent is 16 and I don’t think that we have the type of statutory rape laws that they do in the States (though I should note that this is based off my extensive knowledge of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit reruns and a VERY cursory search of Wikipedia).
Yesterday, the media is reporting that Clash’s accuser has recanted. Through a statement released through the Adreozzi and Associates, Clash’s accuser
wants it to be known that his sexual relationship with Mr. Clash was an adult consensual relationship. […] He will have no further comment on the matter.
My reaction to this whole thing is best summed up by Lindy West over at Jezebel
WELL, OKEY DOKEY, THEN. I mean, who knows what’s true in this whole shitty puppetfuck, and whether or not any of it was any of our business (if the retraction is legit, then it most definitely wasn’t).
Personally, I think that it’s questionable that a (now) 52-year old had a relationship with a (now) 23-year old. That’s a thirty-year age difference, which is kind of fucked up. That’s almost at the level of Courtney Stodden, 16, marrying Doug Hutchison, 51, kind of fucked up.
However, according to Dan Savage, it’s not uncommon for younger gay men to date older men. However, when answering a letter from a concerned father of a (recently out) 18-year old who was dating a 31-year old man, Dan told the father to tell his son
that you realize gay guys his age sometimes date older men because there aren’t a lot of boys his own age to choose from. (If you didn’t already know that, now you do.) And tell your son that this gay dude you know — that would be me, OCD — told you that something’s usually wrong when a thirty-one-year-old is dating a teenager. Something’s usually wrong with the thirty-one-year-old. There are exceptions, of course, and maybe his boyfriend is exceptional — maybe he’s not a jerk who pursues naive boys because gay men his own age can see through his shit — but the simple fact of his age requires that he be subjected to a higher degree of scrutiny than a first boyfriend who was closer to your son’s own age.
So the massive age difference between Clash and his accuser isn’t, in and of itself, necessarily mean that any relationship is exploitative or questionable, especially if Clash adhered to the Campsite Rule.2 Namely,
at the end of the relationship, the elder partner should leave the younger in “better shape than they found them”. This includes no diseases, no fertilized eggs, no undue emotional trauma, and whatever education that can be provided.
That being said, regardless of how icky or not the idea of the relationship makes me or anyone else, frankly, it doesn’t matter. I also can’t comment on how healthy or not the relationship was; I wasn’t involved and I don’t know any of the players that were involved.
The email that Clash wrote was released by TMZ on Tuesday (which were sent after Clash’s accuser turned 18) reads
I’m sorry that I keep talking about sex with you, its driving me insane. I want you to know that I love you and I will never hurt you. I’m here to protect you and make sure your dreams come true. I’ll have my assistant book a ticket for you to come to NY and we can talk about this in person.
It could be read in two completely opposing ways – either supportive or discrediting and it’s exceptionally difficult to draw conclusions from one email – or from a million emails. There are certain things that are red flags to me, but could be completely innocuous and genuine.
Why did his accuser recant? Did he, like a lot of sexual assault victims, realize that this was a no-win situation and that the costs involved weren’t worth the payout? Rape charges are notoriously difficult to prove and, as Marcia Clark pointed out when discussing the 1977 rape charges against Roman Pilanski, “Prosecutors well knew that unless the victim was Snow White, the case was toast.”
On the other side of the coin, was the accuser was lying and trying to extort money from either Clash or the Sesame Workshop? TMZ reports that, as recently as Wednesday at 1:30 pm EST, sources close to the case were reporting that
the accuser’s attorney had been meeting with Clash’s attorney as recent as an hour ago, discussing a financial settlement and 6-figures were on the table.
Or, was it payback for Clash breaking it off (if that was the case)? Let’s also not forget that Clash wasn’t “out” as a gay man and subsequently revealed his sexual orientation to the press in the wake of these scandals. I don’t know how much this would have played into it since I get the impression that Clash – like Neil Patrick Harris and Anderson Cooper – was out, he just never discussed this in public. In a statement Monday, Clash said
I have never been ashamed of this or tried to hide it, but felt it was a personal and private matter.
Regardless of the reasons behind the recantation, Clash and his relationships are now under intense scrutiny and he will forever be associated with these allegations…whether or not they’re true. And the truly sad thing is that suspicion around Clash will never diminish. Even now, I can’t say that the accuser recanting proves that Clash is innocent.
Sexual assault is such a deplorable crime; falsely accusing someone of such is reprehensible. False rape allegations add credibility those rape myths that everyone takes for granted and that makes it so difficult for rapes to be reported and prosecuted successfully.
If the allegations against Clash were false then his accuser is not only ruining an innocent person’s life but also he’s making it more difficult and more humiliating for people to report, increasing the plight of real victims. False accusations make it more difficult to prosecute rapists successfully and real sexual assault victims think twice about coming forward.
Oh, and let’s not forget: you have supported the ignorant belief that all homosexuals are pedophiles (see also here and here).
1 This would have been the first allegation of sexual impropriety within Sesame Street history. The jaded part of me feels the need to add: that’s been made public.
2 If this was the case and the relationship was between consenting adults, then Clash’s accuser violated the Tea and Sympathy addendum to the Campsite Rule by making public statements that could ruin Clash’s career. I mean, if the allegations were false, Clash’s accuser did make statements that could ruin Clash’s career – especially in the States where people go fucking insane about something like this when it comes to someone who works with, near, or for kids, like teachers (see Shawn Loftis).