The Media and Clarence Osborne
The Police and Clarence Osborne
Helping to Create a Deviant
Sexual Folk Devils
The Media and Clarence Osborne
Good citizens who knew nothing more about Clarence Osborne than what they read in the newspapers could be excused for considering the man a ‘monster’. For, with devastating effect, the media went about the business of creating yet another folk devil to be added to the long list of folk devils that have become part of popular culture.
With regard to Osborne the construction of the monster image was not done subtly. Indeed the Australian press, renowned inter-nationally for its directness, outshone itself in its presentation of the Osborne case. One of Australia’s largest selling weekly newspapers, Truth, had on its front page, emblazoned in huge letters: SEX MONSTER’s 2000 BOY VICTIMs. In bold sub-headlines the paper informed its audience that ‘Police seized truckloads of pictures, films, tapes. [*1]
On the same front page we learn from Truth that detectives ‘have described the case as the most horrifying example of perversion in Australia’s history’. The breathless reader then turned over to the inside front page of the newspaper to find the grisly details of the case.
The newspaper reprinted the comments of police-press liaison officer, Ian Hatcher, who was quoted as saying:
Truth is hardly recognised as Australia’s finest or most respected newspaper, but it does reflect the trend taken by other national newspapers as well. The usually conservative and stately Brisbane Sunday Mail had a headline which matched that of Truth: MONSTER SNARED BY HIS CAMERA screamed the Sunday Mail in a lead story on 30 September 1979. Under the headline the paper informs us that ‘The cremation of Clarence Henry Osborne, 61, in Brisbane last week closed what police described as the most horrifying chapter of perversion in Australia’s history.’ The newspaper goes on to inform us that, ‘It will be at least three months before his shocking legacy — a room full of files outlaying his relationship with about 2000 boys — is burnt to ashes.’
It is extremely difficult to find out how this particular newspaper can describe the Osborne case as ‘the most horrifying chapter of perversion in Australia’s history’ because, over the past year, the very same newspaper had described a series of rape/murders in Queensland in some detail. One wonders how the editors were able to equate a situation where there was consenting sex between two people with a situation where a man or men had brutally murdered many young women who were hitch-hiking.
Other newspapers across the nation followed the Sunday Mail and Truth example and the same picture of Osborne was presented in all of them. No facts at all were given to substantiate the claim that he was ‘Australia’s biggest monster’; instead all papers relied on police hyperbole and comment to paint a picture of Osborne and the relationships that he had with the boys.
For example, the Sunday Mail quoted extensively one detective sergeant, Don Reay of the Queensland police force’s Juvenile Aid Bureau, who said that he was disappointed that only two young men involved with Osborne had contacted police since his activities had been publicised! According to Reay:
Truth newspaper informs us that apparently police did not initially think Osborne was the monster he later became. Queensland police-press liaison officer, Ian Hatcher, in explaining how Osborne was caught, told Truth reporters that police received word of suspicious activities by Osborne on 11 September 1979. Apparently a woman complained to a friend in the police force that her son had been approached by a man asking if he would pose for photographs. Police then arranged for the boy to meet Osborne and watched what happened. [*3]
Mr Hatcher then told Truth ‘Nothing untoward happened. Police asked Osborne a few questions then he was allowed to go home.’ [*4] The next day Clarence Henry Osborne was found dead in a car parked at his home. A plastic hose lead from the exhaust pipe to the interior. Even though police had seen a substantial proportion of the material at that stage they did not consider it imperative to arrest the man who was later described by both the police and the media as ‘a monster.’
The monster image was not created by the press alone. The electronic media, eager to show that they were keeping up with the newspapers pontificated about the horrible nature of the Osborne case and gave the usual warnings about not taking sweets from strangers. Even the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s usually intelligent and perceptive television current affairs programme ‘Four Corners’ allowed itself to be carried away by the hysteria surrounding the Osborne case. On two consecutive weeks it presented segments which quite uncritically mixed up the issues of paedophilia, child pornography and prostitution in general.
In fact, Marianne Smith, who won a Logie Award for her coverage of the ‘Four Corners’ segment on child prostitution which included the Osborne case (even though Osborne rarely paid his partners), continued the distortions. She interviewed a number of police officers, clergy and self-appointed morality crusaders who made emotional, illogical and often inaccurate allegations concerning the topics of child-adult sex generally and the case of Clarence Osborne specifically. In the ‘Four Corners’ segment Clarence Osborne was presented by Marianne Smith through an interview with a Queensland police officer, who, in the words of a leading homosexual magazine was allowed to make, un-contradicted, a series of ignorant and bigoted attacks on homosexuals in general’. [*5] The same magazine, Gay Community News, also noted that ‘the chief interviewee on the horrors of the Kings Cross vice scene was an officer of the New South Wales vice squad — when it is a matter of common knowledge in Sydney that the drug, pornography, and prostitution industries flourished through payoffs to the self same vice squad’. [*6]
The Police and Clarence Osborne
In a sense the gay press’s attack on the police’s role in the Osborne case oversimplified the positions of many of the police men and women who investigated Osborne. In the course of researching this at book, I interviewed a number of officers who were involved with Clarence Osborne and their individual positions on Osborne and on man-youth relationships were quite diverse.
These officers were co-operative in answering my questions but preferred to remain anonymous. When I have used their names it is because they themselves were publicly identified by statements given to reporters and reprinted in the press.
Two policemen who were intricately involved in the investigation of the Osborne case granted me an interview approximately six months after the death of Osborne. [*7] At the time of this interview the two police still had not gone through all of the files and tapes that had been seized from Osborne’s house. At that stage they admitted that the analysis of Osborne’s house had not lead to any further arrests but one of them stated that, ‘information on file will be useful to us. It tells us a lot about homosexuals and we like to have records of that.’ News-paper reports six months after my police interviews suggested that police investigations of the Osborne case had led ‘to two more homosexuals who were charged over molesting boys and this fact was confirmed by a policeman associated with these arrests.
The police I interviewed disagreed among themselves and with the press on just how horrific the crimes of Clarence Osborne actually were. When I asked one of the detectives whether he would describe Clarence Osborne as being a monster he replied, ‘Well he wasn’t a monster but what he did was monstrous!’
The same officer, when asked to expand on why he thought Osborne’s acts were ‘monstrous’ told me that while the older man might have changed only one boy in ten into a homosexual that was disastrous enough. As he put it, ‘If that one boy is corrupted, grows up and corrupts another hundred boys during his lifetime then where will we all be?’
The police agreed that no money generally passed hands between Osborne and the boys, and consequently his case could not be considered just another example of child prostitution. They also confirmed the fact that there was no evidence to suggest that Osborne had used physical force or coercion in obtaining sex with any of the boys. All the police I interviewed also admitted that many of the boys had approached Osborne directly, looking for sexual encounters, and that many of them had voluntarily returned and seen Osborne on numerous occasions over a period of years.
There were two aspects of the case that most amazed the police. The first was the sheer number of boys involved with Osborne. Even here though, all the police involved in the case admitted that they had investigated, or were aware of, many other men in the Brisbane region who had been intimately involved with hundreds, if not thousands of boys. [*8] The second aspect of the case that struck police was the lack of complaints they received. In the words of a senior investigating officer, Sergeant Dan Reay, ‘The most amazing aspect of it all is that not one boy complained to his parents or to anyone over the years.’ [*9] In fact, as we have seen, the reason why Osborne was investigated was not the result of any complaint from any boy.
The first aspect of the case that astonished police — the sheer number of youths involved— requires no further comment. There is no doubt that the life and times of Clarence Osborne in terms of the huge number of youthful partners he involved himself with was remarkable. However, the second reason for their astonishment requires further explanation. Why did the police expect the youths to complain?
Through no fault of their own some police officers have little understanding of the psychological reasons that drive young men towards older men. Their antagonistic reactions to paedophilia often blind them to the subtleties of sexual encounters of this kind. And, like it or not, the reality of contemporary police public relations is that a significant section of the population — particularly young people — are cynical about the fairness and impartiality of their law enforcement agencies. Clearly the police are not seen as the trusted allies of the young, and even if some of the youngsters wished to complain about Osborne, it is doubtful that the police would have been the agency to whom they would have gone.
The police’s response to the Osborne case stressed the horror of Osborne’s activities and only later on reassured his past partners that they would not be in trouble. One detective told me that they intended notifying the parents of some of the boys who recently had relations with Osborne. Clearly they had second thoughts about this procedure because their public pleas for co-operation from Osborne’s past ‘victims’ stressed anonymity and confidentiality. The police publicity campaign, in fact, attempted to get any person who had relationships with Osborne to ‘come in and clarify a few things’. The police also reassured the public that persons who had had relations with Osborne and did come in would see their files destroyed and therefore would not have to worry about the threat of blackmail.
To reassure those who might come to them the police said they were not ‘fishing for information’. According to Detective Reay the police ‘have that, believe me. What we want is a broader picture of how Osborne approached the boys." [*10]
Detective Reay went to considerable trouble to reassure Osborne’s partners that this was not a witch hunt. At one stage he announced publicly that ‘we don’t want to go digging up anyone’s past, but if we are to formulate some sort of message for parents, teachers and the community, we will have to know more about his method of approach.’ [*11] And as if to admit that their expertise in understanding these cases was limited Reay honestly admitted that the police had relied heavily on the "don’t-talk-to-strangers" message’, but that ‘we might have to update our thinking because of this fellow’s success rate’. [*12]
There are some worrying features of this still-continuing police investigation. To begin with, the state of Queensland has a national reputation for having some of the most violent rape-murders in Australia and, at the time of writing this book, a number of such murders committed on the tourist highway in the middle of the Gold Coast areas were still unsolved. One wonders whether a police force faced with such problems can afford the luxury of using experienced detectives on a case where no force was used and the ‘criminal’ had committed suicide.
Secondly, it is clear that many of the individuals mentioned by Osborne in his manuscript and tape-recordings — and there are hundreds of cases where specific individuals could be identified — would be classified by the police as homosexuals and that fact entered into the personal files kept by the force. As this particular force had just sought and obtained powers from the government to pass on personal information on file to other individuals and organisations, many young men could become disadvantaged in their employment opportunities and in other matters.
Finally, the strategy of the police in attempting to curtail paedophiliac relations is hardly likely to meet with much success but it could well create a contemporary witch hunt. While the police I talked to agreed that the ‘don’t-talk-to-strangers’ message might be inadequate in terms of curtailing adult-adolescent relationships, this very message is still the mainstay of the police arsenal against paedophiles.
Despite the fact that at least one detective who worked on the Osborne case was perceptive enough to see that ‘scare’ or high fear campaigns rarely achieve their desired results, such campaigns are still used by the force. The detective who was able to see beyond the sex monster stereotype perceptively remarked to me:
Such perceptions were clearly not dominant in the Queensland police force. Some months after the Osborne case the police arrested a man who was subsequently found guilty of indecently dealing with a young boy and girl. The Police Commissioner was moved to remark, when commenting on the case in a Sunday newspaper, that:
While many people might share the sentiments of the Commissioner such outbursts do little to unravel the reasons why young males are attracted to older men. The use of words such as ‘animal’ and ‘monster’ places the onus on to the individual offender, rather than the community and parents, as the cause of such relation-ships. In constructing social monsters in order to explain human behaviour we disapprove of, we often reinforce bigotry and obscure truth. Such an approach can, in the long run, offer no protection to parents or their children because nothing is done to rectify the social and psychological pressures driving young males towards their older brothers.
Helping to Create a Deviant
Most of us probably think that deviants result as a consequence of specific acts. Thus Clarence Osborne was ‘deviant’ because he sexually related to thousands of young boys and youths. It was, in other words, both the quality and quantity of Osborne’s sexual acts that made him a deviant.
But the construction of such people is far more sophisticated than that. To be sure, society has to recognise an act as abhorrent or different or threatening before that act, and the person who engages in it, is ascribed a marginal identity. However, such an identity arises not only from the act itself but also from the social reaction to it.
In the case of Clarence Osborne various techniques were used by society to impute deviantness to him. One of the major ways in which this was carried out was by the process of stereotyping. Stereo-typing, long recognised by sociologists as a deviant-making technique, involves a tendency to jump from a single clue or a small number of clues in actual, suspected, or alleged behaviour, to a more general picture of ‘the kind of person’ with whom one is dealing.
In the case of Osborne the media made much of the fact that Osborne was a child molester because among thousands of photographs found in his house, there was one of a baby fourteen weeks old. There is no suggestion by the police that Osborne sexually interfered with this baby or that he generally related to young boys, let alone babies. On the contrary, the police themselves admit that the vast majority of Osborne’s partners were adolescents and an analysis of Osborne’s own transcripts suggests that 90 per cent of his relation-ships were with adolescents aged between thirteen and twenty. Yet Osborne was constantly described as a ‘molester’ of young children.
Despite the lack of evidence to the contrary some police were quick to assume that Osborne physically coerced and perhaps harmed some of his partners. It was almost as though it was impossible to have a relationship with a youthful partner unless force was used to obtain co-operation. And there were even darker hints by some police that when the case was finally over, dramatic revelations would be unearthed. As one police investigator put it to me:
In fairness to the police it should be pointed out that many of them made no such suggestions. In fact some were quick to point out that the aspect of Osborne’s career that most amazed them was the lack of high-pressure tactics employed by him in obtaining sex from his youthful partners. And no one who knew Osborne has suggested that his personality was of an aggressive or over-assertive type. It is also worth reporting that after twelve months of analysing Osborne s material the police have no evidence of physical coercion being applied by Osborne and no evidence of physical harm being inflicted on any of his partners.
But the stereotyping of paedophiles demands that certain assumptions be made about them. Thus they must be interested in boys, rather than in adolescents, must use force or emotional trickery and often money to obtain sexual favours. Even a sophisticated documentary producer such as Marianne Smith unwittingly perpetuated some of these myths by including the Osborne case in her ‘Four Corners’ segment on child prostitution.
Another technique by which deviation is imputed to persons and acts is retrospective interpretation, a facet of the labelling process. This process involves the mechanism by which people come to see deviators or suspected deviators in a totally new light. An example from another field will explain: sociologists have long been aware of the social-psychological processes by which an individual perceived one day as simply ‘John Brown, citizen’ can (as a result of conviction at trial or even of having being held as a suspect) become a ‘murderer’ or a rapist’ the next day. Often public events such as trials — called, not inappropriately, ‘status-degradation ceremonies — are ways in which the process of retrospective interpretation occur. Social theorist Erving Goffman has pointed out that the ‘case record’ or ‘case history’ approach dearly loved by social workers and psychiatrists is a typical mechanism by which we retrospectively interpret a persons s behaviour as being ‘deviant’. [*14] For example, the actual function of case records seems to be almost entirely in support of current diagnoses, in reinforcing the formal definition of patients as mentally ill and in denying their rationalisations and counter-assertions. Rarely is the case study approach used to show that the patients had moments when he or she could cope, or to provide a rough average or sampling of his or her past conduct.
And so it is with the case of paedophiles. In both the media and police accounts of his life the biographical reconstructions try to show that Osborne had a special history that specially explained his current ‘monster’ identity and that the present evil of Osborne was undoubtedly related to past evil and could be discovered by a police and media search of Osborne’s records and past life.
Nowhere in the media or police accounts of Clarence Osborne do we find any mention of the fact that he was considered by many of his work colleagues as vocationally helpful — someone who often put himself out to help a colleague. Nowhere do we find any acknowledgement of the fact that many parents thought him sufficiently useful for their sons to ask Osborne to take them for body-building courses. Nowhere also do we find any acknowledgement of the fact that Osborne provided many lonely and isolated young males with a companionship that, distasteful as it might be to us, was better than no companionship at all. Instead we find that by the techniques of stereotyping and retrospective interpretation Osborne is defined as being a ‘monster’. Everyone it seems is able to be wise after the event. Thus one neighbour told me, ‘I always knew there was something wrong with Osborne. He looked very strange and I wouldn’t trust him.’ The same neighbour in an earlier part of the interview had something rather different to say, ‘There seemed to be nothing out of the ordinary about Osborne, in fact I always found him a pretty friendly sort of fellow.’
Sexual Folk Devils
Clarence Osborne and his fellow paedophiles are just part of a long tradition of folk devils created by a vengeful society and a sensationalist press. The process of creating monsters or folk devils has been cleverly described by British sociologist Stanley Cohen in his book, Folk Devils and Moral Panics. The Creation of the Mods and Rockers. [*15] Cohen demonstrates how the media and other powerful interest groups scapegoat those who dress and act differently, such as teddy boys in Britain and beatniks in America. Similar processes operate with mentally ill people, ‘dole bludgers’ and coloured people. [*16]
But it is in the area of sexuality that the creation of folk devils becomes most obvious. Paedophiles are just one of a number of sexual folk devils that have been created by powerful interest groups and their agents, the media and the criminal law. Indeed as criminologists Norval Morris and Gordon Hawkins point out: it is as if the laws of western societies were designed to provide ‘an enormous legislative chastity belt encompassing the whole population and prescribing everything except for solitary and joyless masturbation and normal coitus inside wedlock’. [*17] The examples of this theme are endless. In some American states extramarital intercourse is punishable with fines from $10 to five years imprisonment. Bigamy, ‘the triumph of hope over experience’, can lead up to three years imprisonment and in many jurisdictions in industrialised countries heterosexual as well as homosexual sodomy generates fifteen years jail.
Consenting heterosexual acts with children which come under the rubric of carnal knowledge (in England and Australia) or statutory rape (in America) are generally not considered as horrendous as consenting homosexual relations between an adult and a child, but they are still punished in draconian ways. For example, maximum penalties for consenting heterosexual relations between a man and a girl have varied from death in fifteen states of the United States to ten years’ imprisonment in other states. These penalties occur despite the fact that the statutory age of consent varies enormously from one part of the United States to another ranging from, for example, ten years of age in some states to eighteen years of age in others and in the state of Tennessee the age of consent is fixed at twenty-one years of age!
Homosexuals particularly, have been made the modern folk devils of contemporary society. Religious zealot Anita Bryant is just the last in a long line of public dignitaries who have helped to create the homosexual folk devil myth by her concentrated attempt to stigmatise people who engage in same-sex relationships. Bryant’s campaign was so effective that it led to car bumper stickers with the words ‘Kill a queer for Christ’s sake’ printed in large letters: a message that apparently was taken to heart by some as several murders of homosexuals occurred across the United States. Male paedophiles, of course, are doubly deviant or super folk devils not only because they are homosexual but because their sexual drives are orientated towards children.
In unravelling the reasons for the prohibition against homosexual behaviour we should recall the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in the book of Genesis. These cities, according to the legend, were destroyed by the wrath of god because their citizens practised what were described as ‘unnatural acts’. The Christian reaction against homosexuals and homosexual behaviour was later reinforced by the medical and psychiatric professions which have tended to therapeutise same-sex behaviour. For example, Irving Bieber, the most influential of all medical figures to write on homosexuality says, ‘We consider homosexuality to be a pathological, bio-social, psycho-sexual adaptation consequent to pervasive fears surrounding the expression of heterosexual impulses.’ [*18] And until fairly recently, most of the world’s psychiatric associations considered homosexuality to be a mental illness, in the same way that schizophrenia and manic depressive behaviours are also considered to be mental illnesses. The creation of the homosexual folk devil is the work not only of Christians and psychiatrists but also of physicians. In one of the most popular books on sex ever published, Everything you ever wanted to know about sex but were afraid to ask, physician David Reuben assists in building the public stereotype of homosexuals by compounding the current myths about homosexual practices. [*19] According to Dr Reuben, lesbians use a dildo or artificial phallus ‘held in place with an elastic harness’ so that ‘an unreasonable facsimile of heterosexual intercourse is possible’. [*20] On the other hand, according to the good doctor, male homosexuals, ‘find their man-to-man sex unfulfilling and so they secretly masturbate while forcing a carrot lubricated with vegetable oil into their anus, or have intercourse with a melon, a cantaloup or where it is available, a papaya’. [*21]
With such nonsense written about homosexuals it is little wonder that some of the most derogatory words in the English language address themselves to known or suspected homosexuals: ‘faggot’, ‘queer’, ‘punk’, ‘cock sucker’ and ‘fairy’ are examples. Discriminatory language against homosexuals is continuously reinforced by police harassment, legal discrimination and media stereotyping, all of which have been extensively documented by homosexual activists and writers.
What homosexuals constantly find in fighting for legal and social reforms is that opposition to such reforms invariably raise the spectre of young boys being seduced by lustful homosexual men. The fact that the vast majority of same-sex persons are not paedophiles is rarely considered by the moral entrepreneurs of our society. Consider the following diatribe published in the Humbard Question Report in 1972 (not 1872) quoted by John W. Petras in his book Sexuality and Society:
Of course, why one case of homosexual violence should be any more typical of homosexuality in general, than one case of hetero-sexual rape-murder is of heterosexuality in general, is not clear. But the fact that this equation is taken seriously by many people demonstrates the powerful emotional effects of irrational arguments. And paedophiles, more than any other groups, receive the brunt of such arguments in many different ways.
In the public’s mind paedophiles molest children rather than have consenting sexual relationships with them. Paedophiles are seen as preying on children rather than attempting to relate to them and corrupting children rather than showing them affection.
We will see some of these reactions in other parts of this book. In the Revere case in Massachusetts, for example, the media headlines claimed that the twenty-four men indicted for having had sexual relations with boys were involved in rape and pornography. There was no evidence presented during the trial of force being used or of pornography found. Similarly in a forerunner to the Revere case in Boise, Idaho, five men were arrested for similar offences and found guilty by the press before the case came to court. Headlines and editorials in the local paper such as ‘Crush the monster’ led to further police purges resulting in an additional twelve men being charged.
In Britain the first public meeting of the Paedophile Information Exchange showed the strength of the paedophile folk-devil stereotype. The meeting was broken up by a hostile crowd. Mocking and punching the speakers and participants and shouts of ‘animals’, monsters’ and ‘filth’ eventually forced the conference participants to literally run for their lives. As one participant put it, ‘Of course I realised for a long time that our society viewed sexual relationships between children and adults with horror. An affair with a boy of eleven when I was sixteen made me painfully aware of this. But until the events (at the PIE. meeting) I was not aware of the ferocity of this reaction.’ [*23]
Whether it be in Revere, Massachusetts, or Brisbane, Australia, men who love boys are seen as violent, depraved and evil people who symbolise an end to the prevailing moral order. And the violence born out of this paranoia is not dissimilar to the violence displayed by the Spanish and English Inquisitions towards people who were alleged to be witches.
Consider, for example, the public reaction to a case of paedophilia occurring in the same town that Osborne lived in a short time after revelations concerning him were publicised. In this case a man pleaded guilty to charges of having attempted to have carnal knowledge of a girl, sodomy of a girl and her brother, and to charges of having indecently dealt with the girl and the boy on occasions during 1978 and 1979.
Details surrounding the case made it apparent that the children co-operated in the sexual acts, and indeed sought them on many occasions. While the man’s behaviour could, on a variety of counts, be severely criticised and while in my opinion a jail sentence was not inappropriate, comments made by persons concerned with the case hardly assisted the community in dispassionately considering the issues involved in man-youth relationships.
The mother of one of the girls was reported in the local newspaper to have stated that she ‘just wanted to tie him (the accused) on an ants’ nest and pour boiling water over him’. The newspaper publicising these remarks frequently referred to the man as a sex monster’ and criticised the leniency of the nine-year sentence given by the judge. [*24]
While the mother’s anguish is perhaps understandable, her comments on the case were puzzling. To begin with she was reported to have told the press that, ‘My little girl was abused and abused. She probably knows more about sex than I do. It sickens me to have to say it, but I think she came to like it. She must have, she was always excited when he came around to the house.’ Even so, the mother was quite clear on how she felt towards her daughter. According to the Sunday Sun the mother said that ‘when police told me what he had done to my little girl I thought she would be better off dead’. [*25]
Such is the community feeling towards men who have relationships with children. And in a very real sense ignorance about paedophiles leads to the creation of the monster myth which in turn leads to increased paranoia about their alleged effects on the children or adolescents. It is a classic triple play. But while everyone knows that paranoia is the fear of unreal dangers, little can be done to educate the public about the reality of adult-youth relationships while we cling to the monster myth.
American paedophile spokesman Tom Reeves has suggested that we need a word to describe a person who is the opposite of a paranoid: a word to describe those who should be afraid of activities which society condemns but are not at all afraid. [*26] If such a word was invented then probably the majority of young males who met Clarence Osborne could usefully be described by it. For according to the scientific evidence generally and Osborne’s past partners whom I interviewed specifically, the paranoia exhibited by the media and the police was unwarranted.