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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on