How do prolific abusers get away with it for so long?
Disclaimer: I have been requested not to name or identify any of the individuals or accused predators involved with this case by the various victims and informants I refer to in this article. It is ongoing, but my involvement is long over and I am no longer in association with the alleged perpetrator.
I’ve often been alarmed by the fact that I’ve ignored warning bells when being immediately confronted by someone who made me uncomfortable in some way. There are many things that a young woman, in any society, are told to watch out for as warning signs that someone might not have wholly honorable intentions in helping you.
I had been immediately alerted to the fact I didn’t feel comfortable meeting one high profile guy at his private club, on my own, in my early twenties. I didn’t know him, and I hadn’t met him before. But hey, you can’t go through life in fear, right? I remember thinking, at the time, that he was on some kind of amphetamine in the middle of the day. Not great, so far. He kept staring at my body and that made me feel a bit weird, but hey, not unique by any standard, even in a professional context.
I was warned by a member of his entourage that he only ‘engaged’ very young brunette women into his group who were slim and pale, and that he could be creepy and very inappropriate. The man flicked through the profile of a new contact. “Let’s just say,” he said, “look around you and see what she has in common with you girls.” Again, that should have been another alarm bell. Trust me, all this left me kicking myself months later.
I was chatting to an investigative journalist about six months later when I had another opportunity to wake up to the fact this man was less than kosher. “Fuck, you know him?” he said. “Has he…done anything?” Immediately, I paused.
I’d tried to brush off his endless ‘banter’ about my sexuality, how I might perform in bed, comments about my appearance and how well I ‘scrubbed up’ to other middle-aged men, and comments on my selfies that were a little inappropriate. I mean, it was just a joke, surely? I can’t throw away everything because I’m a bit indignant about being asked how I have sex with my partner by a man I’ve never exhibited any romantic or sexual interest in. I’m not the Joke Stasi, for goodness sake. However, I’d also spoken to other brunette young women around him complaining about his obsession with their appearance, his sharing of images of them in a halloween costume or on holiday, and graphic jokes about their sex lives and being fucked by their partners. I’d felt very awkward when he insisted on hugging me a bit too long and I had a strange sensation of being unsafe when I was alone with him in taxis.
But this man hadn’t assaulted me. He was just creepy. Some men are. Right? “No.” I said eventually. “Why?” The journalist paused. “You hear things. A lot of journalists have told me that girls from-” there was a long pause down the phone. “It doesn’t matter. I know other girls he- did stuff to.” No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t get any more information. Not from him, anyway.
This got more alarming when I found out, through another, totally unconnected journalist, from another very high end publication, that this man had, rather mysteriously, ‘been the subject of inquiry.’ I brushed this off as another woman being unhappy with his lewd sense of humour and lack of understanding of boundaries. Until this journalist asked me to meet with him for coffee. Again, probably out of fear that I was an informant or out to get him for defamation, he was very covert. “You hear things,” he said, almost word for word repeating what I’d heard before. “I can’t say too much. But you should be careful. Don’t accept being alone with him, or let him make you see other men on your own. I know a girl who used to know him.” That’s all he would tell me. I think he wanted to protect his source. To this day, I have no idea who that girl was. Disturbingly, we all knew about the demands of NDAs. Promises not to discuss him with the media. Demands and aggressive threats from him for legal suits if discarded women ‘disparaged’ him. I’d seen the emails. I knew about it. But he’d tell us the women were crazy, off their rockers, traitors. Red flag, in retrospect.
I have no excuse, beyond the fact that I hadn’t personally experienced sexual assault or, god forbid, rape from him, for not heeding all these incredibly loud and obvious red flags. The fact that at least three women had told me, separately, that he made them feel ‘creeped out’ and ‘uncomfortable’ and even, alarmingly, ‘pimped out’ really should have got me to do something. Why didn’t I? Why didn’t I see that this man was not just creepy, but a predator? Why did it take me so long?
I think, in retrospect, the fact that everyone knew, and did nothing, was why I didn’t speak out. We all knew he was creepy. It was his personality trait. Creepy jokes about child rape, creepy jokes about pedophiles, creepy jokes about BDSM, creepy jokes about abortion, masturbation, sodomy…he didn’t hide it. He never hid it. Even from the most high end journalists, celebrities and politicians sat there through his jokes about a waitress’s breasts, being a pedophile or gang rape. I saw it. Time and time again. It was bizarre. They just didn’t care. Or maybe, like me, they just didn’t know what to do.
The final alarm bell for me, I think that kicked my exit, was when he crossed paths with someone who had sussed him out. We left a dinner party when the guest stopped me by the door. “He’s crooked,” he told me. “And he creeps me out. There’s something very wrong with that guy. Stay away. I’m amazed you guys put up with it.” I was surprised. This man had, in the course of an hour discussing horses and sports cars, said everything I had been subconsciously ruminating over for nearly a year. Was I just stupid? How could I possibly have put up with this?
So I left. That’s a long story in itself. I left the glittering London clubs, I left the celebrities and his shiny friends, I left the parties, the exclusive events, the jet-setting trips and the frequent trips to the House of Lords and the House of Commons. I left that circle, and I left everything it had once glittered and meant for me.
Months and months later, I heard stories about him again. Horrifying stories. Stories far worse than the sexualisation of very young women and un-PC jokes. Stories of harassment, sexual abuse and assault. I can’t say what is true. I don’t know. I genuinely do not know. I do not know the names of the alleged victims, and I will not reveal the trauma and appalling depravity they shared. To this day, the fear and terror of defamation against a well-connected figure surrounded by top lawyers stops them from speaking out, and it stops me from naming or sharing information on the alleged abuser and getting this looked into sufficiently to stop it possibly happening to someone else. The press knew the rumours, serious top level broadcasting agencies knew, and they knew months and months before I did. Maybe years. They even tried to protect us.
Nothing beyond lewd comments, unwanted sexual attention and uncomfortable hugs happened to me. Nothing to write home about. I’ve had that more times and from more men I can count. But still, I ask myself:
How did I participate so blindly in the world of someone who sounded so many alarm bells? To this day, I don’t have the answers.