70-year history, and certainly for the first time since social media came into being – been teased for a week. The results of a special investigation would be revealed, it promised, but gave no further clues and managed to avoid any leaks. In what felt like a slightly distasteful move, capitalising on the grim story and therefore the alleged victims’ suffering, the announcement came after the Russell Brand rape and sexual harassment allegations. Imaginations were duly seized and speculation mounted that it would be something similarly celebrity-led. If not, it would be something constitutionally weighty that was more in keeping with the BBC’s flagship current-affairs programme. The revelation of another Partygate-type scandal perhaps, or the tracing of some of the billions that effectively disappeared from the nation’s coffers into private pockets during the pandemic? The list could, and on Twitter (now X), Facebook and WhatsApp groups around the country, did go on.
In the end, it was neither celebrity fish nor governmental fowl. It was a set of allegations against the former CEO of American clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch, Mike Jeffries, and his life partner Matthew Smith, uncovered by a two-year investigation by BBC correspondent Rianna Croxford. It is claimed that, via a middleman called James Jacobson (known as Jim, and who denies any coercive, deceptive or forceful behaviour), young men were recruited for sex parties under the guise of being offered opportunities to model for the brand (when it was at the height of its success and, especially in the US, a huge force to be reckoned with in the industry). The BBC spoke to eight men who attended or helped organise the events. Some say they were misled about the nature of their event; others say they knew sex would be involved but not the extent of it.
The programme was structured – in a manner reminiscent of 2019’s Michael Jackson documentary Leaving Neverland, which also centred on men’s recollections of alleged sexual abuse – around the testimonies of two claimants in particular. Barrett Pall and David Bradberry give accounts of being invited for a first interview with “Jim” to see if they were Abercrombie material. Those interviews, they say, turned out to involve sex acts but they assumed afterwards that, as Bradberry put it, “the worst was over”. Instead, they say they were taken to sex parties at isolated locations where – feeling unsafe and effectively coerced – they took part in unwanted activities.
Another contributor, “Alex”, a straight man with a family to support who went to one of the couple’s parties in Marrakech as a stripper, says he woke up after a drink he now suspects was spiked to find a condom inside him, left by what he can only assume was a rapist. He became ill afterwards and six years later was diagnosed with HIV, which he says he can be all but certain he contracted at the party in Morocco.
These are, self-evidently, terrible stories. Brad Edwards, the lawyer who represented many of Jeffrey Epstein’s victims, walks us through how the evidence would be treated by a federal investigation and how the allegations about Jeffries’, Smith’s and Jacobson’s activities could amount to sex trafficking. Activist Sara Ziff, who founded Model Alliance to advocate for protections for employees and accountability among employers in the industry, says she hopes this marks the beginning of a #MeToo movement for men.
But in televisual terms, there were two main problems. First was that in its American focus and the time of the events in question (about 10 years ago) it felt an odd choice for Panorama, which is associated with very current and domestic affairs, even before we add in the deliberate teasing of it beforehand.
And then there was the inescapable damp squibbiness. It is a hard and sorry fact that in a world in which documentaries – about Jackson, Epstein, R Kelly and others – land with explosive revelations and allegations about decades of extraordinary abuse of minors, with the apparent complicity of everyone around them from parents to police forces, the tale of another two men abusing their power does not land as hard as it should and, in a better world, would. The best we can hope is that it moves the dial for men and makes those who are enduring similar suffering feel less alone and more able to talk to someone who can save them.
So the alleged crimes took place ten years ago? Didn't seem to be a problem with Brand.
"Damp squib"? Organised and long term coercion and rape which would legally be classed as sex trafficking, way more details given by NON-ANONYMOUS accusers, one victim contracting HIV as a result and she essentially goes, "Meh".
Also she gets all sniffy about the way they trailed it; again, wasn't a problem in Brand's case.
Is it because the victims are men or just that the accused are not official enemies? Eithher way it demonstrates a massive hypocrisy.