THE BLOG
20/12/2013 05:15 GMT | Updated 18/02/2014 05:59 GMT

Celebrity Status Must Not Become a Harbour for Child Sex Offences

News that a former pop star has been sentenced to 35 years for child sex offences won't come as a shock to fellow professionals who, like me, work with child abuse victims every day.

Like many pop and rock musicians before him, in his heyday Ian Watkins, lead singer of Lostprophets, enjoyed a high level of public attention and attracted an ardent fan base of young people.

The glamorous culture of pop music and the status it awards to people like Watkins can act as a powerful magnet to young people, many of whom find the excitement of a 'sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll' lifestyle irresistible. These impressionable young fans all too easily come to idolise their preferred band members and follow them from gig to gig.

However, meeting their idol face to face can put them at risk of abuse, particularly if the individual involved is a paedophile who sees their fame and celebrity status as a means of gaining access to young victims who they can exploit emotionally and physically.

Like others in the public eye, not least Savile and the others arrested as part of Operation Yewtree, child sex offenders will actively seek out opportunities to meet children and young people one-to-one so they can groom them or initiate them into a world of abuse.

Such victims often feel that because the perpetrator of the crimes committed against them is 'famous' they will not be believed if they speak out. In other instances, they may have been manipulated into thinking that they are in some way complicit in the crime.

In Watkins' case, one of the most shocking revelations is that some people close to him had reported their concerns to the police many years prior to his arrest but this was not acted upon. Similarly, during the Savile enquiry, a number of people spoke of their unease about the TV personality, but without clear evidence against him, they chose to do nothing.

In these cases, this apparent willingness to protect those in the public eye from the glare of suspicion has effectively turned their celebrity status into a harbour for child sex abuse on a prolific scale. News last week that tougher sentencing for celebrity sex offenders is to be introduced as of next April is an overdue and urgently needed change to ensure that those in the public eye can no longer hide behind the public persona.

As a lawyer who represents child sex abuse victims in seeking justice for the crimes committed against them, I know how difficult it can be for them to come forward and disclose what happened. Victims typically fear that they will not be believed or that sharing their story with others will have a negative effect on their current lives. More often than not, the only reason they decide to pursue justice is because they believe that, in doing so, they will be sending a positive message to others like them and helping to break the cycle of abuse.

Instead of protecting celebrities, those responsible for the protection of children - teachers, GPs, police officers and social workers - must treat them exactly the same as any other member of society. To succeed in outing paedophiles and bringing them to justice, it is vital that any allegation of child sex offences is reported and treated seriously, no matter who is involved.

For those individuals abused by Watkins who have not yet come forward to report the crimes committed against them, at least they can now do so safe in the knowledge that he has been sentenced for child sex offences and therefore their claims are more credible as a result. Thanks to Operation Yewtree and the legacy of the Savile scandal, celebrity status is no longer the harbour it once was for child sex abuse - the tide is turning.