The Evidence of Character

Everyone who knew Eric Cullen well says that he was an outstandingly nice guy: but one often hears of cases where a person is convicted of serious sexual and/or violent crimes, and their friends and relatives say that they can't believe it because the person always seemed so nice. It's not sufficient, therefore, for Eric's friends just to say "We know him and we know he wasn't like that", because some people will say "That's what they all say".

However, consideration of the precise nature of Eric's "niceness", and of his specific personality-traits, shows that it was extremely unlikely that he could have had paedophile tendencies.

Unlike murderers and thieves, child abusers do fall into identifiable "types" - and Eric didn't fit any of the types. Indeed, he was about as far from being a paedophile "type" as it's possible to be.

Above all, child abusers are, almost without exception, people who have great difficulty forming close emotional relationships with other adults, especially adult women. Eric had a positive genius for forming close emotional relationships with other adults, especially adult women. This alone is sufficient to make it almost impossible that Eric could have been an abuser.

An expert once said that niceness is not a personality-trait but a social strategy. Genuine empathy and sympathy, however, are personality-traits. Although it is often reported that rapists etc. had appeared to be particularly nice, this "niceness" always seems to have consisted in trotting out a glibly appropriate phrase, being helpful to the neighbours etc. - all rather contrived and lacking in spontaneity. In recent cases the rapist DJ Richard Baker was e.g. described as warning girls that "there were a lot of bad guys around and [they] should be careful", whilst the girlfriend of another serial rapist protested that he had always seemed so nice because he had "insisted" on paying for everything, even when she didn't want him to - nannying and control-freakish. And then it all ends up with the expert psychiatric reports, telling us that the person who had seemed so "nice" was really a smiling monster and a seething cauldron of perversions.

Eric was sometimes nice in a slightly "luvvie" way - but he was also vividly and spontaneously empathetic. He didn't just trot out appropriately sympathetic phrases: he really agonized over other people's troubles. And in his case the expert psychiatric opinion was that he really was as gentle and good and above all as innocent as he appeared to be, and that he showed no trace of any deviant tendencies whatsoever.

You can get psychotic people who can be sincerely kind in one context and murderously callous in another - the Mengele model. A few years ago a team of psychiatrists in America produced evidence that psychosis - defined as the tendency to act without regard to consequences - wasn't simply a Bad Thing. Rather, it was one end of a sliding scale, like Introversion/Extroversion and Optimism/Pessimism, and a small amount of psychosis was actually a healthy personality trait: without it, people were unable to take decisive action in an emergency. Eric was the sort of person who spends ages dithering over the consequences of their actions - which is to say, he was about as un-psychotic as it is possible to get.

It has been suggested that since Eric was an actor he must also have been a good liar, and that his lively sympathy, his breakdown after having to view his abusers' tapes at the police station etc. could have been faked. However, while a good liar has to be a good actor, the reverse doesn't follow. Actors rely on somebody else to write the script and to correct their performance until they get it right: good liars have to make up their own script on the spur of the moment, and get it right first time. I have seen film of an actor who really was a paedophile pretending not to be, and sounding entirely false: and that was a "serious" actor who made a living projecting emotions, not a specialist in comic timing.

It is true that for years Eric successfully concealed the fact that he was being abused from his parents. However, there is a difference in skill between lying by not saying something, and lying directly. From my experience of Eric I can say he made a very unconvincing liar. I am as sure as one can be of anything that he couldn't have faked his emotional responses to the charges against him etc. - and especially not and keep it up long term.

[Small domestic out-take: I gave him a little sculpture of a dog for his birthday, which I put in an old fruit-tea box to make it easier to wrap. Eric - whose idea of cooking was mostly boil-in-the-bag - saw the picture on the box and thought it described the contents. Anybody who has even the vaguest pretensions to being a good liar knows how to fake pleasure at a disappointing present: but Eric said "Oh lovely - cinnamon sticks!" in a high, thin, brave little voice. ]

Nor was Eric's response to the charges against him the kind which anyone would be likely to fake. He didn't sound all ostentatiously innocent and wronged - and if he had I would have distrusted him, because those are easy things to act. Mainly he just sounded intensely irritated; and therefore absolutely genuine.

A journalist called Meg Henderson, who has extensive experience working with abused children, wrote at the time that Eric was a classic example of an abuse-victim who became an abuser himself; for whom abuse had become a form of communication. However, there was no actual evidence that this was the case, and nothing in his background or nature to suggest that he might have any such inclinations - other than the mere fact of having been abused himself.

There is a popular assumption that any abuse victim is very likely to become an abuser - but this is a fallacy. Many abusers have dozens, even hundreds of victims. It's not as simple as saying there are hundreds of times more victims than abusers, because many of the victims are abused by dozens of men: but it's safe to say that in any generation there are a lot more victims than abusers. It's true that a high proportion of abusers have themselves been abused: but if more than a small proportion of victims became abusers themselves the problem would spread exponentially until the entire population was at it. A Venn diagram (pictorial representation of the relationships between groups) of the situation would look something like the figure on the right - where the small area of overlap between the two ovals represents the set of abuse victims who become abusers.

Ms Henderson spoke of children who have been taken into care after being sexually abused, and who thereafter have to be watched in case they abuse other children: but if they had to be taken into care that almost certainly means they'd been abused at home by the people who brought them up. This is very different from the position Eric was in.

You get abuse victims who do become abusers because they've been assaulted by their own carers, have no healthy rôle models and have grown up thinking of abuse as normal behaviour: but Eric had an excellent, loving home life and was well aware that his abusers were grossly abnormal (and even among children abused by their own carers only a fairly small proportion will become abusers).

You get abuse victims who become abusers because they were assaulted from such an early age that their whole development has been warped by abuse: but Eric was a teenager with a well-established personality and immense strength of character before his ordeal started.

You get abuse victims of any age who are impressionable and who start imitating their abusers, rather like the victims of brainwashing cults: but Eric was as malleable as a brick.

You get abuse victims who become abusers because their abusers tell them that sexual abuse is a way of expressing affection, which then infects their own relationships: but most of the abuse Eric suffered was presented as "punishment" and violent, jeering attack.

You get abuse victims who become abusers and who think "my Dad did it to me and it didn't do me any harm": but Eric was acutely aware of how damaging his experiences had been.

You get abuse victims who become abusers because they want to make other people suffer as they did: but Eric was the gentlest, most genuinely "caring" individual I have ever met, who was tormented by the knowledge that other children were suffering as he had done and was desperate to protect them.

He antagonized the police and legal service by insisting that they investigate his abusers, and jeopardized his own sanity by recalling his ordeal in detail in order to give evidence; and he said that if he could get even one of these men off the streets and safely away from children his own trauma would have been worthwhile.

You get abuse victims who seem to become abusers because they are rôle-playing, making a half-formed attempt to work something out about what happened to them and why: but Eric had a degree in psychology and an extremely good understanding of his own and other people's motivations, and when he wanted to learn more about what made his abusers tick he just signed up for an additional course in forensic psychology.

You get abuse victims who become abusers because their sexuality has become so contorted it bubbles up in twisted ways: but Eric had a robustly uncomplicated enthusiasm for sex with adult women, when he wasn't too depressed to care. Possibly the abuse made him feel he had to prove his manly heterosexuality: but if so he had fun doing it.

You get abuse victims who become abusers because they think that their own suffering lets them off from behaving responsibly and the world now owes them whatever they want: but Eric was remarkably free from self-pity and had a stiff-upper-lip, mustn't complain, the show must go on professionalism.

You get abusers who go for children because they can't relate to adults, especially adult women: but Eric was extremely keen on adult women and adult women, by and large, were extremely keen on him. He had a quite exceptional gift for relating to other people - especially women - and had more and more deeply devoted friends than anyone else I've ever met.

You get rather pathetic abusers who are retarded and go for children because they are effectively children themselves, only with adult hormones: but Eric was highly intelligent, and unusually grown-up for such a young man. He had been conditioned by his abusers to fall apart and behave like a child when they started slapping him around, so he tended to lose his head and act daft when under immediate threat: but most of the time he was impressively sensible and mature.

You get abusers who enjoy exercising power over children: but Eric hated to impose on anyone - and he didn't need to bully anyone else to give him a sense of power, because he got that through making people laugh.

You get abusers who view children as items of property without feelings: but Eric was exceptionally alive to the individuality of others, including children who are so often treated as non-persons even by people who pride themselves on being "good with children".

You get abusers who con themselves that the child is a fully sexual being and enjoys it really: but Eric was vividly aware of the horrific effects of abuse, and he liked the company of children precisely because they weren't sexual and so he felt safe around them.

You get sadistic abusers who actively like to make children suffer: but Eric was intensely kind and sympathetic and agonized over the problems of everyone he met.

You get abusers who abuse young boys because they have homosexual tendencies which they cannot bring themselves to admit to with adults (that, at least, was the excuse offered by Eric's uncle's lawyer!): but a) although he had individual male friends, as a general rule Eric didn't even like other males, far less fancy them and b) he moved in acting circles in which homosexuality is de rigueur and if he had had any bisexual tendencies he had gay male friends who would have been happy to help him to express them.

You get abusers who are attracted to children because they are fixated on the sexless, pre-pubertal body: but Eric was at least toying with the idea of going to bed with me (owing to his sudden death we'll never know whether he actually would have done), and I'm six years older than him and very much on the big 'n' busty plan.

You get abusers who are attracted to children, for whatever reason, and who consider that their perceived need gives them the right to act on their desires irrespective of the damage it will do to the child: but Eric always inclined to set other people's interests higher than his own.

You get abusers who get a kick out of transgression, of doing something they know is wicked and illegal: but Eric was ethical and also genuinely respectable, and wanted to Do the Right Thing.

You get abusers who will screw anything that moves and go for children simply because they're all that's currently available: such predatory sexual addicts are said to want sex but fear real intimacy. Eric, on the other hand, had a great capacity for emotionally intimate friendships, his sexual relationships were of a piece with that, and as far as potential sexual partners went he was if anything spoilt for choice.

You get abusers who conceal all their negative feelings and therefore appear excessively sweet and pleasant on the surface, while being a seething mass of suppressed rage which can break out into violence; but Eric was exceptionally emotionally open and his negative emotions were freely visible and freely expressed.

You have to take yourself and your wants deathly seriously in order to impose your own sexual needs on someone else you know will be harmed by the experience: but Eric was alight with laughter and self-mockery.

Also, in the first place, while there isn't such a thing as a criminal face, pictures of genuine paedophiles all seem to show either a very hard, closed expression or the distrait "can't help it" look of the seriously mentally ill. A person who has a closed face may be concealing nothing worse than that they are sucking up to the boss while secretly hating him - but all successful paedophiles are by definition hiding something, and are therefore likely to have that shuttered look.

Eric, on the other hand, had an exceptionally open and mobile face - expressions chasing across it like wind over water - and it is unlikely that he could have retained this if he was simultaneously suppressing all outward signs of a grossly abnormal set of responses.

In the second place, Eric and I had or appeared to have the same sort of spiritual link that one hears of in identical twins - such that I could "hear" his emotions. Whether you believe this is possible or not, and whether this was really true or some mutual delusion, is beside the point. The significant thing is that Eric himself was absolutely convinced that I could feel what he felt - and that he really liked the idea and found it comforting. If he'd been concealing any dark, abnormal desires, the idea that someone could read his mind would have horrified him.

Finally, there is a lot of truth in the old saying "Drink's in, truth's out". Alcohol disinhibits, so people's behaviour when very drunk is usually revealing of their real feelings - e.g. the sort of person who puts on "niceness" as a means of manipulating people is likely to show their true colours and become aggressive and boorish. Eric when drunk was as kind and pleasant as he was when sober - and even more obviously insulted and aggrieved at the accusations against him.

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