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Rundle: apres Rolf, le deluge

Britons are reeling from a series of high-profile children’s entertainers who are being accused — and in some cases convicted — or child sex abuse. But Australia’s turn is still to come — and it will be ugly when it does.

Rolf Harris

Well, there goes Rolf. That familiar, near iconic, beard and horn-rims has spent two days in the witness box defending himself against multiple charges of sexual assault of teenage girls. Harris stands accused of groping and fondling a girl when she was 13. She was friends with Harris’s daughter, Bindi, and Harris was friends with her parents.

To complicate matters, Harris and the girl/woman in question began a consensual sexual affair after she turned 18, an affair that continued for some years. Both Harris and his accuser attest to the adult relationship, but Harris denies that anything untoward took place before she was 18.

The woman claims that Harris’ attentions damaged her psychologically. Harris and his lawyers claim that she has spun a consensual relationship into something else to have a story to sell to the newspapers, and that she has struck a deal with Australian tabloids.

In support of her accusations, the prosecution has put on the witness stand a number of women who claim that Harris sexually assaulted them in the much the same way as his accuser suggests — groping and a little more, usually in the context of some appearance Harris was making.

Under cross-examination today, Harris was unable to offer any reason there would be so many similar stories from women who do not know each other and are gaining nothing from the current prosecution. “They’re lying,” he told the court. “How would I know why they’re lying?”

Whatever the ultimate judgement, today’s performance is the end of him and quite a turnaround from his main evidence, when his barrister had led him through a recital of his long career, from the invention of the wobble board, allowing him to charm the jury with a few verses of Jake the Peg.

The end also — or another instalment on it — too, for the fond childhood memories of a swathe of the British public. Several DJs and TV music show presenters are now doing time for sexual assault on young girls and some young men. The crimes are varied and multiple, the convictions split between those who focused on young teenagers and those who effectively assaulted and raped “barely legal” young women interested in a career in showbiz. In every case, it appears that they “groomed” some of their subjects from an earlyish age. People really began to get the seriousness of this when Max Clifford — white-suited PR to the stars — got eight years for this sort of stuff. He was joined by professional “cheeky chappy” Stuart Hall, onetime host of It’s a Knockout, who, already jailed, faces new charges. And there was the dark lord of them all, the late Jimmy Savile, was a one-man mobile paedophile charnel house, using his access — via charity appearances — to abuse and rape children in hospital, and the mildly mentally disabled.

Comedians have already developed a good line in jokes about “here’s one of the three film clips we can show you from the 1970s”, but it’s no more than a nervous way of dealing with the underlying horror. A vast swathe of memory is just gone, for millions, and no one has much of an idea about how to deal with it yet.

Like cops and psychiatrists, kids’ TV presenter is one of those jobs where a desire to do it should automatically disqualify someone from the role.”

Since TV became universal, kids’ TV has been a central part of shared cultural experience. Indeed for anyone under 60 or 65, kids’ TV probably represents some of the simplest, happiest memories of childhood. That is hardly coincidental. Kids’ TV uses the capacity of children for simple wonder, their inability to tell metaphor from reality, to create a hypnotic effect.

No harm in that (kids’ advertisers do that, too, with more pernicious results), but it means that kids’ TV has the same structure and content as a cult — it’s a compelling private mythology spruiked by a charismatic leader. Many kids’ TV presenters are a little cracked — they’re good at it because their own psychological development got stuck early on, and they developed no more than a shell of adulthood to go on.

Best-case scenario, that means no more than that they are in touch with a playfulness the rest of us lose. Worst-case, they are sexual beings with no capacity to relate to adults — and by virtue of their very defect, thrust into a world offering an unlimited supply of devoted and gullible children and adolescents. Like cops and psychiatrists, kids’ TV presenter is one of those jobs where a desire to do it should automatically disqualify someone from the role.

The Brits are going to have to deal with this for years. But here’s the kicker — our turn is still to come. I will be very surprised if this cultural disaster does not break Down Under in the next couple of years. In a way, it’s already begun, with the conviction of Hey Dad star Robert Hughes. That had little impact, because no one ever liked Hey Dad -- they just watched it because pay TV hadn’t been introduced yet. But it won’t be the last, and there are a number of people out there starting to sweat a little.

Should this happen, will we handle this any better than the Brits did? Having failed to investigate Jimmy Savile and others for decades, the UK cops and Crown Prosecution Service went way overboard and launched prosecutions based on minor incidents, some occurring more than 40 years ago, and with a case impossible to prove.

The UK case seems to have thrown up all sorts — the clearly guilty, the almost-certainly guilty-but-can’t-be-proved, and those who may have been put through a year or so of hell and had their reputations trashed on some very dodgy and self-serving claims. Much of the vehemence appears to be a response to a sense of collective guilt that monstrous predators were allowed to operate for decades because of the strange half-awareness of child abuse that was present from the ’60s to the ’80s.

Beyond that is the mystery of child sexual abuse itself, and the question that haunts the present — have we only recently become aware of something that has been occurring at a rate more or less unchanged for decades? Or have social changes — from the total liberations of desire stemming from the 1960s to the social reorganisation caused by the internet — produced a pathology far more widespread than hitherto? Neither is particularly palatable, and wherever the truth lies — well, you’re never going to listen to Rolf panting and groaning over the wobble board in quite the same way again …

28
  • 1
    paddy
    Posted Friday, 30 May 2014 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    Refreshingly sane take on the whole sorry business.
    You’re in fine form Guy.

  • 2
    Jaybuoy
    Posted Friday, 30 May 2014 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    On one occasion he molested her within yards of his sunbathing wife and daughter and performed oral sex on her in the same room as other sleeping children, the jury of six men and six women was told… these are not frivolous accusations and should not be trivialised.. it’s mass hysteria according to Harris who seems to have groped on an industrial scale..

  • 3
    Mark Duffett
    Posted Friday, 30 May 2014 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    Not just the British public. Rundle expresses much more eloquently what I was thinking just yesterday - that a little bit of my childhood is going to die if Harris is convicted. Even that Goodies episode is now forever tarnished.

  • 4
    mikeb
    Posted Friday, 30 May 2014 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    The Goodies had it right. Rolf Harris’s need to be hunted out of existance.

  • 5
    Tom Jones
    Posted Friday, 30 May 2014 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    He should have avoided singing Jake the Peg to the jury. An own goal if over there was one.

  • 6
    Tony Brill
    Posted Friday, 30 May 2014 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    >have we only recently become aware of something that has been occurring at a rate more or less unchanged for decades?

    I seem to recall that about 1905 Freud was finding a lot of women reporting abuse by their fathers and when he reported that data he was howled down by his colleagues.

    So he invented the account that girls fantasise about sex with their fathers and that became the official belief.

  • 7
    Posted Friday, 30 May 2014 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    TOM JONES: Bingo! Once the person making you laugh turns out to be a monster resentment will be tossed into the mix.

  • 8
    Posted Friday, 30 May 2014 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    Even before the Romans established an empire small children were being raped for public and private amusement. It’s just that we are at the fag end of the Victorian era. At a time when Queen Victoria was enjoying her widowhood the English- speaking world’s middle classes rushed to conform to her standards. The good woman was so respectable she refused to believe that women could be in a homosexual relationship with other females. Male homosexuality existed but wasn’t mentioned in polite society-and, if caught, punishment was cruel.

    It’s possible she couldn’t believe paedophilia existed either.

  • 9
    mikeb
    Posted Friday, 30 May 2014 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    So he invented the account that girls fantasise about sex with their fathers and that became the official belief.”

    Invented suggests fabricating the evidence behind his theories. Although his theories were questioned and were maybe incorrect, it’s another stretch to label them as being invented.

  • 10
    Dion Giles
    Posted Friday, 30 May 2014 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    Aren’t all these speculations about Harris’ future more relevant after a jury has convicted him?

  • 11
    Jason Mountney
    Posted Friday, 30 May 2014 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    Australia was here ages ago. Boris the Black Knight, anyone?

  • 12
    Damien M
    Posted Friday, 30 May 2014 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    I surprised a bunch of industry types not long ago by not sympathising with the poor struggling new actor worried about their future employability if they said anything (the old “the producer will never let me work again!” line). I said what’s worth more: someone’s future in acting or a kid not getting raped? This seemed to be a surprising and new thought to some people in the room. That’s how deep the problem is and how ingrained and selfish the fear of reporting it is.

  • 13
    Luke Hellboy
    Posted Friday, 30 May 2014 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    Some A-list celebrities live in a bubble facilitated by management teams and a bevy of personal assistants. What is almost as repulsive as the predations of these celebrities is the inevitable facilition, cover up or at least turning-a-blind-eye to the heinous crimes by those working in the industry around them. Any spare money in pink batt or union witch hunts to fund a royal commission into entertainment industry child sexual abuse? I thought not

  • 14
    Malcolm Street
    Posted Friday, 30 May 2014 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

    Mark@3 - my sad feelings as well…

  • 15
    Nevil Kingston-Brown
    Posted Friday, 30 May 2014 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

    Way to go Guy, slander every one who works with or entertains children as a paedophile-in-waiting. Bullshit prejudice dressed up as amateur psychology like this is one of the reasons it’s so hard to get men to be child carers or primary teachers, in an era when many young kids lack male role models. You will be hearing from United Voice I suspect.

  • 16
    burninglog
    Posted Friday, 30 May 2014 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    Well, hang on!

    This coming down here?!!

    I knew Skippy was an animal, but not this type of beast!

  • 17
    Ken Lambert
    Posted Friday, 30 May 2014 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

    Guy has done a good job in a very fraught and dangerous area of human behaviour.

    Most who had only ever seen Rolf on TV over decades recoiled in shock and disbelief at the allegations against him.

    This is a bloke who painted very well big things on blank sheets; The Queen; and sang with patriotic feel-good enthusiasm, if not to all tastes.

    Certainly when multiple accusers tell similar stories and there is no chance of collusion, the case against the Rolfs of this sad world is compelling.

    Like all shock horror of the sexual abuse kind, it is bound to go overboard and injustices will be done. The principle of it being better that guilty men go free than one innocent man be wrongly convicted is going to be hard to argue when the deluge of accusations arrive.

    It is a pattern though, abusers do show up in particular jobs which place them in regular contact with children, so the slandering of innocents in those jobs is probably inevitable. The price of safety for children is no doubt eternal vigilance.

  • 18
    The Old Bill
    Posted Friday, 30 May 2014 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

    The town I grew up in in the early 60s had a Jimmy Saville / Rolf Harris Scoutmaster, though with a predilection for boys rather than girls.

    The town dealt with it by not getting rid of him, but by all the parents warning us what to tell them about and the local Dads telling the person concerned that he could look but not touch. The reason? If they got rid of him, he would bob up elsewhere uncontrolled and unsupervised. I am proud to have been part of this community service, but very relieved he died long before the internet started.
    I would have hated the thought of some of his photos on a Romanian porn site. I was really good looking at 8 years old though :)
    Point being - there are many such people out there who have easy access to the objects of their desires. Education and support of children can nip this in the bud immediately. If all kids were educated as in my country town, they would feel they could tell someone, not hide it for years.

  • 19
    Equilateral
    Posted Friday, 30 May 2014 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

    Whatever Rolf has done, his apparent attitude towards young girls is not unique. Back then there was less questioning of openly proclaimed attraction towards the very young and vulnerable. I still recall my horror at being leered at as a 12-13 year old in my school uniform by a childhood idol who starred in a popular TV show in the late ’60s. By then he was past his prime and reduced to spruiking in supermarkets, but he seemed to feel it was acceptable behaviour.

  • 20
    Draco Houston
    Posted Saturday, 31 May 2014 at 6:34 am | Permalink

    At least the case has made listening to Rodney Rude’s little ditty about Rolf Harris’ longevity much funnier.

  • 21
    AR
    Posted Saturday, 31 May 2014 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    Decades? Try millenia. I blame the invention of bronze which devastated matriarchy.

  • 22
    Chalkie Kev
    Posted Saturday, 31 May 2014 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    @Jason Mountney: Eric Summons (Boris the Black Knight) hasn’t been accused of anything, if Google can be trusted. I think you’re thinking of Constable Dave Moore who appeared on that show and various others.

  • 23
    Dion Giles
    Posted Saturday, 31 May 2014 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    Onya, Nevil. Rolf Harris is still on trial. Way back in the year dot, when I was a journo, comment reflecting on the guilt or innocence of a defendant during a trial would have had the journo in strife for contempt of court. Even if it was only a foreign court compromising its process was generally avoided in the interests of fairness.

  • 24
    Guy Rundle
    Posted Sunday, 1 June 2014 at 5:41 am | Permalink

    Dion and Nevil

    If you read the article properly, you’ll see that all i do is recount the evidence offered, and make no estimation of Harris’s guilt.
    what i do say - reasonably enough - is that his reputation is tarnished, even if found innocent. which is neother pro-nor anti-rolf.
    In reflecting on the wider situation, i simply point out that people have been convicted, and there is no reason to believe it will not happen here.

  • 25
    Mark Kennedy
    Posted Monday, 2 June 2014 at 12:37 am | Permalink

    Why does he have to make these brazen generalised annoying get under your skin statements? Does he do any research beforehand? That’s two articles i’ve read of his that have irritated me and isn’t the content IT’S HIM and his lack of style.

  • 26
    Deipnosoph
    Posted Monday, 2 June 2014 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    Mark, who are you talking about?

  • 27
    Nevil Kingston-Brown
    Posted Wednesday, 4 June 2014 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    No Guy, you cast aspersions on everyone who works in children’s television, ‘based’ on nothing more than your own amateur psychoanalysis. You suggested that anyone who wants to work entertaining children should not get the job because they are more likely to be a paedophile. The extension to anyone who works with children generally is obvious. As I’ve said (based upon knowing professional child carers and teachers) fear of baseless suspicions of paedophilia is one reason men are reluctant to become child carers and primary teachers. You are fanning this prejudice based upon nothing more than your own speculation about Rolf Harris’ mental state.

    Many kids’ TV presenters are a little cracked — they’re good at it because their own psychological development got stuck early on, and they developed no more than a shell of adulthood to go on. Best-case scenario, that means no more than that they are in touch with a playfulness the rest of us lose. Worst-case, they are sexual beings with no capacity to relate to adults — and by virtue of their very defect, thrust into a world offering an unlimited supply of devoted and gullible children and adolescents. Like cops and psychiatrists, kids’ TV presenter is one of those jobs where a desire to do it should automatically disqualify someone from the role.”

  • 28
    Dion Giles
    Posted Wednesday, 4 June 2014 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

    While endorsing every syllable of what Nevil Kingston-Brown has written, I must add that my own further beef was the problem of the letter and purpose of the laws governing contempt of court. Guy Rundle is right - he has not expressly stated that Rolf Harris is guilty. But it’s there loud and clear in the subtext. It’s like the bloke in “Fool Britannia” — “Scoutmaster indeed, they don’t fool me y’know” . Knowledgeable witnesses have suggested other scenerios and it’s for the jury to rule on the relative plausibilities.

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