As we know – this week, entertainer Rolf Harris was sent to prison for abusing children – using his celebrity status as a cloak for his disgusting activities. His past has now caught up with him, he’s paying the price and so will his family. Justice perhaps for those he abused.
He’s one of a line of people, often most famous in the 70s and 80s, who have been accused – and some subsequently convicted – of allegedly having one public persona and another private persona which is infinitely darker, sexually motivated and criminal.
Within hours, more women, many over the age of consent, starting talking about Harris’s inappropriate behaviour towards them. Then there also came the voice of those who think all of this is nonsense, a snowball out of control.
I have some sympathy with this I suppose because in those decades, some behaviour was more acceptable than it would be now. When I started out in the 1980s, I lost count of the amount of times I had my bottom pinched or slapped, or talked to someone who kept their eyes aligned with my boobs or who, on one occasion, actually told me his wife didn’t understand him. I could handle all of this – more than handle it in fact. Several times, I pinched a man’s bottom in return, told someone my face was up here and, with the ‘wife doesn’t understand me’ line, I laughed in the face of the CEO of a large company who said that to me. Positions of ‘power’ don’t impress me.
However, there were darker moments. Times when I felt the undertone was completely ‘other’ and the threat was something more. There’s a difference between banter and feeling compromised. I remember once visiting the home of a successful businessman who suddenly, quietly and firmly sexually propositioned me in front of his wife – I ran out and drove off at a rate of knots. I also remember one man, then in his 50s, and someone I often saw in the course of my job, who would keep coming up behind me and gently stroking the back of my neck. It was very invasive.
Therefore, if you know this, you might understand why I got caught up in an online spat with someone who was using phrases like ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ suggesting that somehow women are ‘cashing in’ on Harris’s conviction. There seemed to be a suggestion that these women were out for money. Or were unworthy of being believed, or were somehow complicit because they didn’t do anything about it at the time. However, I would challenge any one to do something different to those victims, in the same circumstances.
Anyone who is a journalist would know that the majority of people who suffer abuse – both men and women – don’t tell anyone at all for very long periods of time. Sometimes for ever.
They will often feel they are somehow at fault, that something they did or said, did make them complicit in the act of abuse. There are refuges nationwide full of people who’ve put up with abuse for very long periods of time.
This online ‘banter’ made me very angry – because I know what Rolf Harris was like and I’ve known for years.
Why didn’t you say something I hear you all cry? It’s very simple. I’ve never met him, he did nothing to me.
However, he did do something a good friend of mine – she told me – and I believed her. Why didn’t she report it? Well, that’s a matter for her – but I can probably hazard a guess. She probably thought it wasn’t worth the hassle.
Remember the man who stroked my neck that I mentioned earlier? I did confront him and told him not to touch me again after he’d done it several times. I also did report it to my boss – a lovely man but one who appeared out of his depth and probably felt it was too minor a thing to escalate. Maybe he was right. I’d not been groped intimately. It was just the feel of that man touching me was all wrong, that’s very hard to convey in a telephone call – to your boss. To this day, I don’t know if he was told by anyone other than me that he was out of order.
However, I was a young journalist, just starting out. I’d heard all of the stories about the ‘casting couch’ though, frankly I’ve only ever met one person in my career who I thought used her womanhood to achieve her goals. I wanted a successful career and I didn’t want to get caught up in a scandal or a case which could become something really nasty. Life in the media as a working class woman was hard enough.
Imagine that man being a celebrity like Rolf Harris? Who would believe me at that time? And even if they did, what would have happened? To me? Would it have possibly damaged my career? Anyone could have accused me of inviting the attentions of a famous man. Who would have wanted to employ me as the person who’d accused Harris? Would I inadvertently become damaged goods myself?
Now, more than 20 years on, it would be different if someone acted inappropriately towards me.
Of course I don’t look the same, I’m older, I don’t have the slim figure I had then.
However, I have the same drive, the same passion for my chosen path – but I also have experience. My experience has shown me that if someone makes me feel threatened – I should listen to that instinct and act on it.
If someone acts inappropriately towards me – is he going to do it to someone else? Has he done it to anyone before me? Experience has taught me that it’s highly likely. For that reason, today, I’d make much noise.
And to those women who found the courage to speak out – you might inspire others who have kept such abuse a secret – thus throwing the spotlight on offenders who’ve been able to hide their behaviour for a life time.