The Blog

Rolf Harris Isn't an Exception - Let's Not Forget It


After the jury returned their "guilty" verdict on all 12 counts of indecent assault, Rolf Harris was visibly dumbstruck. Making the baying press wait for their coveted statements of remorse for his crimes, the former CBE, painter and entertainer sat motionless, seemingly unable to comprehend what was happening to him.

Following the trial on BBC radio, his confusion was echoed by presenters and listeners alike. Shortly after the verdict was announced, his fellow c'lebs were carted out and one by one repeated the same lines: that Rolf was a kind, normal man - far from the sexual predator the prosecution had described. Lunchtime stalwart Jeremy Vine continued the theme, posing the question to his listeners: how are we to come to terms with the fact that our former national hero, so trusted that he painted a picture of the Queen, was in fact all along a "vicious beast". Listeners, audibly distressed, phoned in to describe their childhood being "ripped up" before their eyes, proven to be "a lie".

To convince the jury to accept the apparent disparity between the wobble-board player and the man that groped a primary-school-aged fan, the prosecution labelled Harris a "Jekyll and Hyde". Perhaps this could explain why at the apparent height of his crime the star made what is now a source of cruel irony - the educational NSPCC video in which he sang along with smiling children "my body's mine from head to toe, please leave it alone when you hear me say No".

There is, however, a less interesting and also far less palatable explanation as to how a man who was venerated world-wide also sexually assaulted 4 victims (with more alleged victims coming forward since the trial); why Harris (who had clearly been aware that he had committed these crimes) was so palpably shocked by the verdict. It is the same reason why without a hint of irony Radio 2 followed the breaking story of the judge's sentence for Harris of 5 years and 9 months with a song by all male group OMD detailing a refusal to listen to a woman who wants to leave her partner ("I touch you once, I touch you twice, I won't let go at any price"). It's the same reason why news of Harris's conviction was run in the Sun this weekend, a few pages away from their "Loved Up Star Strips" two-page fold.

A Jekyll and Hyde - or the inevitable result of a system that normalises sexual harassment?

For the course of his 84 years, Rolf Harris has inhabited a world where wolf-whilstling, groping and even raping unconsenting women is the status quo - and critically goes almost entirely unpunished. It was pertinent that there were 9 women at the trial who had been assaulted by Harris but who hadn't even brought their cases to court - they were only there as "character witnesses". Harris's actions were clearly unforgivable but evidently he is not the only man who has sexually touched a woman without her consent.

I consider myself to have been luckily free of sexual assault in my lifetime - but yet I am beeped and leered at by male drivers on a near daily basis, and I can't count the number of times that I have been groped by complete strangers whilst in a bar or even just walking down the street. I can pretty much guarantee that the vast majority of women reading this will have had the same experience. Like those girls MP Yvette Cooper described in the Independent this week, I was given good training in putting up with this at school, and even convinced myself it was flattering to be given attention that entailed treating me as a body and that was both painful and embarrassing. Teachers did nothing as the boys undid our bras through our shirts while we were working and repeatedly slapped the lower halves of our bodies (on one occasion I was whipped with the blisteringly hot tube of a Bunsen burner). One is tempted to say that if every boy or man who indecently assaulted or sexually harassed a women was locked up, our prisons and YOIs would be even fuller than they are already. Given this, it's not hard to see why Harris feels hard done by - if you were that way inclined, you might call him "unlucky".

While the press digest the outcome of the trail, the public collectively rip up Rolf's paintings, tape over his Glasto appearance, and consign him to the "other bin" - full of paedos, rapists and people who "aren't like us". Except that Rolf Harris is like us - he is like every "touchy feely" man with a 9-to-5 job and a wife and two kids who thinks it's OK to pinch the bum of the prepubescent on the street who looks just like the one he saw earlier on TV waving her bum at him. Perpetuating the "monster myth" by pretending Rolf Harris is an exception might make us feel better for a while - but it makes Rolf Harris II an inevitability.

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