Boy George: Bad karma

The enthusiastic rehabilitation of Boy George after he served time for a vicious attack says much about our disregard for male victims of violence, writes Patrick Strudwick

In the din of sycophancy encircling celebrities, there is usually a voice, somewhere, attempting to usher them back down to earth. Last week, that voice belonged, ironically, to an employee of Italy's national airline. The celebrity was Boy George. "Can you dig that one of the staff at @Alitalia in Milan told me to 'shut up!' Classy!" he tweeted, indignant.

If only Boy George (real name George O'Dowd) would obey its command, not only for the duration of his flight but indefinitely. I say this not because I don't appreciate his music ("Karma Chameleon" was the first record I bought), nor his razzle-dazzle dispensing of gender norms, but because there is one person he seems to have forgotten as he (dis)graces awards ceremonies and magazine covers with his presence to promote his new album. It is the same person everyone else has overlooked, too: his victim. The man – Audun Carlsen – he chained up in his London flat in April 2007, threatened and attacked. The man who, in fear for his life, broke free of his shackles and ran out into the street in the early hours, nearly naked, bruised, bleeding and hysterical.

Anyone who has met his victim would not forget. In 2011, I tracked Carlsen down to interview him. The singer had hired him twice in 2007 to take photographs of him. On the second occasion, the Norwegian model told me, O'Dowd, under the influence of cocaine and convinced that Carlsen had broken into his computer, "asked me to come into the bedroom. He and another guy are standing there and suddenly they are both jumping and beating on me and kicking on my back, my face, dragging me along the floor... tying me up... handcuffing me...screaming abuse… I've never seen a person so full of hate. I thought he would kill me."

Carlsen recalled O'Dowd leaving the room and returning with a box containing "leather straps, and some other metallic things and sex toys". The court heard in 2008 what the singer said next: "Now you're going to get what you deserve."

Boy George apparently served just four months of a 15-month jail sentence for false imprisonment. The Crown Prosecution Service never caught O'Dowd's alleged accomplice, as the singer "could not be compelled to disclose the identity" of the man.

Three years on, I cannot forget how Carlsen's eyes filled and his voice shook as he trembled throughout these recollections. The trauma branded on his face, the horror in his eyes remains with me. But how easily his perpetrator appears to forget. To help shift copies of his new record, he is on the cover of new gay lifestyle magazine Winq. He was at last month's Brit Awards, sporting a painted-on, bloodied bruise above his eye because, as he told Vogue, he's a "fashion victim". How fabulous! How edgy!

How sick, how grotesque – how wilfully this disregards his victim's feelings. How much longer will we exalt such a man? How long will gay culture hold him aloft, in collective denial of his crime? Graham Norton once said he feels badly for his boyfriends as, when their relationship ends, they still have to see his face everywhere. Imagine if the face you saw everywhere was one that imprisoned and terrorised you.

The wider question is why the public has forgiven or forgotten the attack. It is surely not simply O'Dowd's fame, talent, knack for a rapier quip, nor the way the press reported the crime as if it were some sort of kinky S&M game. And nor can the blame lie solely with the cowardly journalists who, when interviewing him, do not mention the monstrous incident or consign it to a line buried deep in the colluding prose.

No, it indubitably rests on how we view prostitutes (as Carlsen was erroneously described) who are attacked. And how we view male victims of violence – sexual or otherwise. We must ask how Britain would perceive a pop star, let's say Liam Gallagher, if he had manacled a woman before dragging her across the floor and beating her. Would we remain so silent? Would his face still loom from newsagents' shelves?

In patriarchy's rigid gender roles, oppressive to all, men cannot be conceived as intimate terrorism's victims, as this injects fear and insecurity in the 49 per cent primed to dominate. So we look away. Is it any wonder that Survivors UK, the charity for male victims of rape, estimates that only 3-5 per cent report the crime? Or that campaigners for male victims of domestic violence speak of those who come forward being "invisible" to police and media?

Like all perpetrators, O'Dowd should be rehabilitated, but at what cost to his victim? Must he remain, brazen, in public life? As Carlsen went on to suffer depression, anxiety and agoraphobia, O'Dowd attempted to appear on Celebrity Big Brother, seemingly unfettered by the potential impact on his victim. And, given his tweet just after scolding Al Italia, it seems our apparent national treasure remains unable to take seriously the devastation of violence. "We need @NaomiCampbell as the Patron Saint Of Air Travellers!" he joked. This is the supermodel once banned from British Airways after a violent outburst and twice found guilty of assault.

As ever, in Boy George's fabulous, edgy world, the punched are but a punch line.

Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

music
Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

radio
Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
    Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

    Finally, a diet that works

    Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
    Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

    Say it with... lyrics

    The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
    Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

    The joys of 'thinkering'

    Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
    Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

    Monique Roffey interview

    The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
    DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
    Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

    How we met

    Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

    Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

    Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
    Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

    Who does your club need in the transfer window?

    Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month