Rolf Harris guilty: A very ordinary tale of a bleak abuse of male power over young girls

It's appalling that even in 2014 we continue to blame child victims

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The Independent Online

For a man whom we know to have spread so much darkness, Rolf Harris certainly brightened up my 1970s childhood. Rolf was the very best sort of grown-up: a very silly one. He’d lollop on to stage in a trench-coat with a third comedy “peg leg”, banging, hooting and wobbling out noises on bewildering Aborigine instruments. He’d implore us to learn to swim. He had his own Cartoon Club. “You can join today!”, he’d yell in the opening titles, daubing “Rolfaroos”.

He’d release vinyl LPs that my gran would play in her front sitting room – the one she only used on special occasions – featuring songs like the rollicking tongue twister “The Ladies of the Court of King Caratacus”, and the ballad of war and friendship “Two Little Boys”, which after a couple of Babychams would make all the aunties cry. Here was a man who couldn’t complete his pieces to camera about a poorly poodle on Animal Hospital as he was weeping too much. A star turn at Glastonbury, uniting thousands of field-dwellers with “Sun Arise”, Rolf Harris was very much loved.

It’s appalling to think that this public affection helped him gain access to so many young girls, whom he later claimed “jumped on the band-wagon” with memories of sexual assault. His daughter’s 13-year old friend, a 15-year-old aspiring dancer, a seven-year-old autograph-hunter, a 13-year-old waitress; the list goes on and the circumstances vary, although, to Rolf Harris mind, they all share a common impetus of being bold-faced liars who seek to trip a famous man up.

The story of Rolf Harris’s rise to national treasure status and his ability to entertain is extraordinary, but when that's all stripped away, here is a very ordinary tale of a bleak abuse of male power over young girls. And a very bog-standard example of how we treat women who attempt to raise the alarm. 

As barrister Simon Ray so starkly put it during his defence of Harris in connection with one bout of sexual impropriety - which began when the girl was 13 and stretched over many years – “She needed it to be something that for which no-one could blame her at all, she could only receive sympathy. You may think that was the moment she decided to accuse Rolf Harris.” Then later adding, “Mr Harris is not the first man and he won't be the last to lose perspective and rational thought in the face of flattering attention”. Here, in a nutshell, is the problem: even in a courtroom, in 2014, the blaming of child victims and the painting of sexual abuse as “just men being men” is fair game.

I’d like to say there are no winners in this story, but Bindi Harris, Rolf’s daughter, must be applauded for her constant unfaltering support of her dad, showing up in court every day - clutching his elbow - to hear tales of the abuse of her friend, then aged 13, on family holidays and in backs of cars. Bindi is due to inherit £11m from the Rolf Harris estate. She really deserves every penny.