Sam Warner: Once trusted and admired, Glitter is all the more reviled

The intense public interest in the former pop star's behaviour reflects deeper concerns about how a child sex offender could inveigle his way into our affections, and highlights the need to prevent such criminals from fleeing abroad to find fresh victims

Share
Related Topics

Gary Glitter arrived back in Britain on Friday after serving nearly three years in a Vietnamese jail for sexually abusing two girls, aged 11 and 12. He tried very hard not to return home, but several countries refused to admit him. Instead of continuing his music career in Thailand or Hong Kong, the singer came home to intense media interest and the prospect of ongoing monitoring and surveillance by specialist public protection officers. He faces a wall of hatred and disgust from the public. We are appalled by him, but we cannot ignore him. Gary Glitter won't disappear from the news anytime soon.

Why does this man command so much interest from the general public? In Britain he was one of the most successful pop stars of the 1970s. And, until his conviction for possessing images of child abuse in 1999, his songs continued to be played in Britain – as they still are around the world today in countries that can forget that a child sex offender is singing them. Glitter was the glam rocker that everybody loved.

He was over the top, but not scary, not threatening. He'd been around for so long that we thought we knew him, we thought we were in on the joke. People had taken his songs into their homes and Gary Glitter into their hearts. So, when his crimes became public knowledge, his betrayal felt personal. His excess, once endearing, was now sinister. What we thought we knew hid a monster within. He is every parent's worst nightmare: a strange and odd man who has victimised children around the world. But we didn't know then, and couldn't tell. And it is this that makes us feel vulnerable.

Glitter reminds the public that abusers hide in plain sight. Abusers are most often people whom children know and like, and adults feel happy to leave their children with. They are friends and family: ordinary men with ordinary jobs. His stage persona may be extraordinary, but it is his familiarity that is unsettling. He represents the visible face of our private fears: how can children be protected when we fail to recognise the abusers who live among us?

Glitter, the abuser, was hidden in public affection. Now visible, he has been returned to Britain; he must sign the sex offenders register and make himself subject to monitoring and surveillance, but we can't lock him up (at this point) and we can't make him safe. He is the bogeyman for our times because child sexual abuse is one of the public's biggest fears. As the visible face of a largely hidden population, Glitter represents a target for all the anger and hurt that he and other (hidden) child sexual abusers invoke.

That he generates such strong emotions is both a function of his familiarity to us and, paradoxically, his distance from us. As suggested, his familiarity reminds the public that abusers are often popular, trusted and liked: indistinguishable from other ordinary men (and women) in our lives. This is terrifying, and this is why the public prefers to think that abusers are extraordinary – like a glam rocker: flamboyant, excessive, bizarre and uncommon. But being bizarre did not lead to Glitter's downfall (his collection of child porn was uncovered by chance by a computer repair man at PC World) and child sexual abuse is far from uncommon.

So what can be done to keep children safe? Glitter, like many child sexual abusers, has failed to demonstrate remorse for the sexual offences he has been convicted of, and as such he remains at a "high risk" of reoffending. The implication is that if he is not sorry for what he has done, he is more likely to do it again. This is why there is a need for systems and laws that can monitor the whereabouts of convicted sex offenders and restrict their access to children.

Since the Sex Offenders Act 2003, every convicted sex offender in Britain is registered. Sex offenders can live where they want to in Britain, but are legally bound to inform the police of their address. In addition, child sexual abusers can be made subject to "sexual offences prevention" orders that aim to stop abusers putting themselves in situations in which they can approach children. A "foreign travel" order can also be implemented, compelling offenders to inform the police of any intention to travel abroad and allowing the police to share this information with foreign colleagues. But these orders are seldom used: five were issued between 2004 and 2007.

Any system that aims to reduce the risk of child sexual abuse has to do more than monitor offenders: it must also provide treatment, in the context of wider-scale intervention. Back in Britain, Glitter will have access to a multi-agency team of professionals who will monitor and provide access to treatment services. But while there is some evidence that treatment can be effective, it will only be effective for those abusers who want to change their behaviour – and this is a minority.

It can therefore be argued that increased services for victims of abuse would represent a better use of limited public funds. If children are to be protected from sexual abuse they need a range of services and laws that safeguard their human rights. Too many women and girls around the world live in fear of sexual assault and other acts of violence. Sexual abuse of children is a global problem that requires global solutions.

Local laws need to be strengthened and supported by international treaties. The World Health Organisation has identified a range of priorities that are necessary to underpin safer relationships for children and women. International and local laws have to be implemented that prohibit violence against, and exploitation of, children and women. Victims need safe systems for reporting sexual assault, access to safe housing, and a range of support services thereafter.

Gary Glitter is one abuser who may or may not change. So it might be worth monitoring him, but it might be better to focus work and public funds on the many victims in Britain and throughout the world. Like the two girls in Vietnam, they want change and deserve better lives.

Dr Sam Warner is a consultant clinical psychologist and research fellow at Manchester Metropolitan University and a specialist in child sexual abuse

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The woman featured in the Better Together campaign's latest video  

Tea and no sympathy: The 'Better Together' campaign's mistake is to assume it knows how women think

Jane Merrick
On alert: Security cordons around Cardiff Castle ahead of this week’s Nato summit  

Ukraine crisis: Nato is at a crossroads. Where does it go from here?

Richard Shirreff
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution