Content note: this post discusses rape and sexual abuse
The latest name attached to the Yewtree arrests is Rolf Harris. A lot of us UK-dwellers were entertained by Harris’s TV shows as children, with all the art and songs and lovely things. So it might have come to a shock that he was arrested for sexual offences since he seemed so nice, and was an integral part of our childhoods in the sort of way those TV nostalgia countdown shows dictate an integral part of our childhoods.
It hardly comes as a surprise, then, that people have been crying out that their childhoods have been ruined because their televisual idol has been arrested. While this represents, at least, a nascent sense of taking sexual offences seriously, it is still a deeply problematic thing to say.
Someone you watched on TV getting nicked for sexual offences doesn’t ruin your childhood. All of those happy memories of eating jelly and seeing if you could tell what it is yet are still intact. This was still how you passed some of your childhood, in between using jumpers for goalposts and eating Spangles and whatever else you did back in those days. Yes, it may leave a bad taste in your mouth to know that later he was arrested for something vile, but this does not mean that your childhood was in any way ruined.
If you want to know what a ruined childhood looks like, why not start with the survivors of other Yewtree suspects, or the instigator of the whole thing, Jimmy Savile? Children were raped and abused by powerful men. It happened, and will continue to happen, for as long as we allow rape culture to thrive.
To say that someone you don’t know but enjoyed watching on telly getting nicked ruined your childhood trivialises these frighteningly common occurrences which have very real consequences in destroying not just a childhood, but often a whole life. Sexual violence is not a walk in the park for anyone, and leaves emotional scars that cut deep.
The view is inextricably linked with a very common trope of rape culture: a focus placed on the perpetrator rather than on survivors. This way of looking at things has negative consequences and stands in the way of ever getting anything done (see the pervasive notion that being accused of rape is the worst thing that can happen to anyone, for example).
So no, Rolf Harris’s arrest did not ruin your childhood. To say otherwise trivialises and erases the reality of sexual violence.