Trigger warning : This post deals with sexual abuse of minors and may be distressing for some readers.
Arrogant. Entitled. Opportunistic. Sleazy. For anyone who’d ever crossed paths with Rolf Harris, the guilty verdict was no surprise.
I met Rolf Harris once when I was about 8 or 9. My Mum and I were at a BBQ and Harris was there; he’d been working on a film with some close family friends.
When it was time to go home, he followed my Mum out to our car. My father was away on business and I remember very clearly sitting behind her in the backseat as he leaned far into the driver’s side window to talk to her while she tried to start the engine. In those days you would have called it “chatting her up”.
It was the 70s and she was wearing a long flowy skirt that she would pull up just past her knees when she drove.
Being so young, I had no word for sleazy. No context for it. I just knew I felt intensely uncomfortable as Rolf Harris made lecherous comments about my mum’s legs in front of me and asked her to go out with him on a date. I remember being confused because he was famous and I was in awe of that. But he was married and he knew she was married and I knew that was wrong. I was sitting right there. He was that brash. That confident. That persistent. She brushed him off politely as women did in those days and totally forgot about the incident until I reminded her of it last year.
Recently, an Australian TV executive told me that whenever Rolf Harris came in for an interview, they’d have to keep all the young make-up artists far away for their own protection because “he was always so grabby” in the make-up chair.
Neither of these anecdotes constitutes a crime or even abuse. But both paint a picture of a man who felt very entitled in his dealings with women. And he’s not the only one.
Both men believed it was their right to sexually molest young girls and both seemed truly shocked to discover that their heinous behaviour was in fact criminal.
In court, their defences against child sex abuse charges were disturbingly similar. The accusations of their victims were baseless, they spluttered, motivated purely by money or a desire for fame. Neither Rolf Harris nor Robert Hughes could explain how numerous victims could give almost identical evidence against them despite not knowing each other.
By doing so, of course, these brave women helped prosecutors corroborate a deviant and criminal pattern of behaviour by both men.
Rolf Harris is 84 and Robert Hughes is 65. The individual crimes for which they were found guilty occurred from the 1960s to the 1990s, a time when many men believed touching the bodies of women and children was their right. Especially if they had wealth or power. No big deal. Certainly nothing that could get them arrested or impact on their careers. It was just something they did. They were “touchy feely” as Rolf Harris sickeningly described himself without irony.
Every woman over the age of 25 has a ‘touchy feely’ man story. Most were not children and it wasn’t nearly as serious as the crimes committed by Harris and Hughes. But there are similarities. In virtually every case, the man controlled the power. Her boss. Her customer. A celebrity. An older relative. Someone who held a position of status or authority.