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
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
TV
News
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
art
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
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.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game