A public service announcement: Rolf Harris’s arrest has not ruined your childhood

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.


14 responses to “A public service announcement: Rolf Harris’s arrest has not ruined your childhood

  • Matthew Smith

    Plus there’s the fact that he’s only been arrested and questioned, not charged, so we don’t know what he’s even suspected of doing, or when, or who made the claims, let alone if they’re true. Innocent until proven guilty and all that.

    • stavvers

      I’m not really sure why you’ve posted something so irrelevant here, as nobody here has said he’s guilty or not. Feels a little bit like a non-sequitur and I’m a little concerned about the purpose it serves, as it smacks of being linked to this obsessive focus on perpetrators rather than survivors.

      • McDuff

        Personally, I don’t think something like *whether or not he did it* is irrelevant.

        Because if he *didn’t* do it, then he’s a victim of a media culture which attaches names to the label “sex offender” at the drop of a hat.

        Being falsely accused and having that false accusation published doesn’t make you a sex offender, and makes you a victim, not a perpetrator. So saying “shouldn’t we wait until we know which is fucking which before we splash it all over the papers” is hardly, in fact, concentrating more on the perpetrators.

        Accusation isn’t guilt.

    • rachel scotland

      I’m going to say this one more time today:

      “Innocent until proven guilty” isn’t meant for individuals and it’s utterly disingenuous when people pretend it is.

      People can (should) assume people are guilty simply on the word of the victim. That simple. There’s no philosophical victory to be won here over who is the most magnanimous towards accused rapists, or who’s the most even-handed with their “listening to both sides” of a sexual assault.

      When someone tells you they were raped, you believe them. “Innocent until proven guilty” when you are not a fucking judge means “I don’t want to believe the victim”.

  • jemima101

    thank you🙂

  • Boobaxter

    I think you may have taken them a bit too literally.

  • izzykamikaze

    I like this piece. It makes an important point about trivialising the experience of survivors. But I’m afraid I also think the distinction between an alleged perpetrator and a proven perpetrator is an important one to maintain and need not take anything away from our focus on survivors.

  • PedroStephano

    I admit to crying out loud “oh no” when I heard the news, but I had no other thought other than a fervent hope that Trial By Press won’t occur again, and that the whole true story comes out. Let’s await due process, and ensure the victims are cared for properly.

  • richb

    Part of the problem is with how society views media figures – they are as the article says, unconditionally idolised and revered.

    I think if they were viewed realistically it would be less of a shock when situations such as this occur.

  • Cath Campbell

    Thanks for this. I have been amazed by the number of otherwise decent people choosing to either make jokes of sexual abuse with refs to Harris songs or simply deciding it can’t be true as, what, he was great on the telly? Its all so much easier when the person isn’t a figure from childhood hey. Gee, really hard to understand why survivors of abuse from popular members of the community would be reluctant to report isn’t it?

    Lets hope he isn’t guilty, but that if he is, that he is charged arrested and later convicted, and that in the meantime people can stop being such dickheads on social media, as each time someone posts that stuff, it gets that bit harder for survivors to speak out.

  • Emma Pooka

    Good post. Not only is it not our childhoods that have been ruined, let’s remember that what he’s accused of, by whom and what the circumstances were is *absolutely none of our god damn business*. When the details of an abuser are published, it should only ever be at the express request of the survivor, in order to protect others who are potentially in danger. Whether or not we think Rolf Harris deserves to have his name dragged through the mud is irrelevant. The survivor(s), whoever they are, should really *not* have to have their experiences publicised so that total strangers can express an opinion.

  • theboxticker

    Thanks for writing this. I admit I said the ‘childhood = ruined’ thing when I heard this, but hearing other people say it made me realise how callous it sounds. Personally, I meant that it’s nasty to think that somebody who bought me joy as a child, bought other children a lifetime of pain. I have no place to judge whether he is guilty or whether his name should have been released, (although I agree with the above poster, that it probably does more harm than good for survivors), and it’s shitty the way the story has been both sensationalised and trivialised at the same time.

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