Kevin Clash, Elmo’s Muppeteer, has been accused of having sex with an underage boy, and as a feminist and a parent, I’m having trouble processing this information. According to the story, a young man came forward saying that he had a sexual relationship with Mr. Clash when he was 16 and Mr. Clash was 45. Mr. Clash denies that the relationship occurred when the accuser was underage.
The other day I was watching Scandal, one of my guilty pleasures, and I was really angry when they went with the old trope of (spoiler alert) false accusation of rape. I also recently read with great interest the comments on feministe.com about rape culture essentially making the victim prove her rape and people’s willingness to just believe that she lied. So it pissed me off that the television show was resorting to such a damaging fiction.
What does this have to do with Elmo? Of course I don’t want to believe something horrible about Elmo or Kevin Clash. The documentary Being Elmo told the story of his life, and it was just so heartwarming about following your dream and bringing happiness to children. And as I look at the news story now, I’m wondering if I’m just engaging in rape apologism. I don’t want to dismiss this as saying the accuser is lying because he went to Mr. Clash’s employer and not the police (at least, the article does not say that he went to the police and there are many reasons why rape victims don’t report the crimes) or by saying he just changed his mind later and wants to get money. But even if the accusations are true, I’m not outraged.
I don’t know the jurisdiction in which it occurred, but in Maryland (one of the places I’m licensed and where Mr. Clash is from), the age of consent is 16, which would have made it legal. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s not gross. Also, this could have happened in a place where the age of consent is 17 (like Texas). Which leaves me still not outraged. I see it as the difference between malum prohibitum and malum in se. Here’s a refresher on that:
This is the stupidest question in the world.
I’m looking at the story and thinking, ok let’s say it was illegal. Should Mr. Clash be prosecuted? Yes (if there is sufficient evidence to charge him with a crime). Does this make him a horrible person? I don’t think so. At least, not this alone (if there is evidence of coercion or force, I reserve the right to revise this). If it did, if he were horrible for having sex with a person who could not legally give his consent (but who attempted to give it anyway), then we would be forced to consider him a horrible person if he did it in a place like Texas but not if he did it in a place like Maryland. Which just doesn’t make sense.
Grossness, however, knows no state borders. A relationship between a 16-year-old or an 18-year-old and a 45-year-old, though legal, squicks me a little. So I’m not outraged, I’m just sad. Am I engaging in rape apologism?
Edit: Maybe it doesn’t matter now. The accuser has recanted.