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Repairing The Damage: Being Elmo Again After False Sex Accusations

6:33 PM, Nov 14, 2012   |    comments
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Greensboro, NC -- A 52-year-old father with a clean reputation, a dream job and it all came crashing down on Monday.

Kevin Clash, the man behind the voice of Sesame Street's Elmo was accused of statutory rape.

And by the next day, Tuesday, the accuser came back and said he lied about the attack.

Some may agree, with news of the allegations plastered everywhere from cable news to newspapers and social media, the damage to Clash's reputation has already been done.

DISCUSS: Facebook Discussion About Kevin Clash's Reputation After Allegations Withdrawn

So now what? Where does Clash go to get his good name back?

News 2 spoke with a Triad reputation management company and Denny Kelly, the CEO explains even though it takes a second to trash a name, it takes much longer to restore it.

And even more unsettling, there's no one thing you can do to make it right again.

Ask the Duke lacrosse players, accused of rape and then cleared in 2007; or Syracuse University assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine, accused of sexual abuse and cleared after accuser said he lied.

And, closer to home, Jason Ford, a Forsyth County teacher who five students accused of "inappropriate touching" but then in 2010 police said they lied.

While the wrongly accused welcome the chance to clear their names, even after these allegations are recanted, experts know the truth alone will not fix the damage.

"It's the question of how do I get my reputation back, and the answer is you know what? you probably don't. And that's the harm here," Al Tompkins, a teacher at Poynter Institute, said about Clash's situation.

Denny Kelly, a reputation management expert and president of Bouvier Kelly adds that  in the age of social media, where things live on forever in digital space, you're in for the fight of your life to get your good name back.

"A reputation, is something that belongs only to you and you don't have to create it;  so the fact that someone can destroy it can be devastating.," she said.

Her advice? Don't be quiet: get out there and be vocal and clear your name.

She adds that it's also a good time for you to revisit your core values and reiterate them.

"Express some sympathy for the person who made the false accusation. Clearly, there's something wrong and they need help. And I think for the falsely accused to be very vocal in expressing their concern kind of gives them a higher ground," she said.

As for Clash and Sesame Street, Kelly says this could be a chance for them to reach out and help kids who've been abused and use this as a teachable moment.

As for the liars who ruin these people's lives, sometimes they ruin their own lives too.

Depending on the situation, they can face criminal charges or be sued for defamation.

In the spirit of transparency, News 2 would like to note that this story helped us discover a glitch in our own Web-based reporting on this type of story.

If you do a Google search of "Kevin Clash," all the stories from the allegations come up in the search results.

If you click on the newest digtriad story you see the update that the accuser lied. But, by chance, if you clicked on the original story, until Wednesday afternoon, it wasn't linked to the update.

Most media companies have the same problem.  Since this story, we've put a new policy in place to address that.

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