The Washington Post has an excellent profile of British entertainer Jimmy Savile and how celebrity worship shielded him from the consequences of his egregious crimes. Savile allegedly sexually abused over 500 adults and children, and he engaged in necrophilia. The victims' ages range from two to 75 years old. He died in October 2011, and he was never charged with a crime.

How did someone, who hung out with the royals, political figures, and the pope manage to rack up hundreds of victims and evade justice his whole life?

Advertisement

Savile, similar to Jerry Sandusky, was able to literally hide in plain sight by amassing nationwide fame, becoming ingratiated with the right people, strategically selecting victims, and smothering it all with some well-timed philanthropy. (What charity would ever say no to millions of dollars, right?)

Predators also rely on the stranger danger myth: the idea that any adult unknown to a victim must be a potential threat. For example, even though evidence points to a tiny fraction of unknown kidnappers abducting children, the myth of a child being pulled into a windowless van still persists. (My mother still believes that a woman walking down a street alone at night plays a factor in sexual assault.) A majority of the time, perpetrators of sexual assault are known to their victims.

Savile is yet another example of unquestionable celebrity worship. It isn't a conscious effort of any one person, but rather the myth that audiences "know" and "love" these entertainers, leaders, athletes, etc. because we see them all the time in the media and we consume their contributions to the world.

Advertisement

Another example is Sean Penn — actor, abuser, and clueless philanthropist. In this fantastic profile, it's easy to see his actions in Haiti as nothing but selfless and passionate. Look at that rich actor taking time off from his career and living in post-disaster chaos. But a closer look reveals that it's more of Penn's abuse and control issues dressed up in altruism. (He also had to fulfill some community service requirement as part of his recent run in with the law.) Who would ever criticize a wealthy man who brought a international humanitarian effort to its knees over one case of diphtheria?

Similar to Savile's philanthropic efforts at one of the United Kingdom's biggest hospitals, aid workers in Haiti were scared to object to Penn's antics for fear of losing attention and money for a cause that so desperately needed it. Celebrities like Savile and Penn can have a national audience at their finger tips anytime they want, but their beneficiaries would never be that lucky. It's almost like a hostage situation.

These examples serve as yet another reminder that it is the people known to us, not a stranger in a trench coat at the end of a dark alley, who have far greater power and potential to hurt and manipulate us. A healthy dose of skepticism, even for someone like America's Dad Bill Cosby, can go a long way in standing up to a chronic abuser.