Rolf Harris is guilty

Yesterday Rolf Harris was found guilty of 12 counts of indecently assaulting four girls. David Renton argues that his conviction goes some way in corroding the stereotypes with which rape and sexual violence are surrounded

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One theme running through the evidence given by the the women assaulted by Rolf Harris was the destructive effect his behaviour has continued to have on their lives. One witness Tonya Lee descried suffering anorexia and bulimia after being grabbed by Harris. She said that after being assaulted by Harris she had considered killing herself. A second woman, 11, when Harris kissed the inside of her mouth, told the court that she cannot bear now to be kissed in that way, not even by her husband. The principal complainant, 13 and happy at the time when Harris began abusing her, described feeling panic afterwards, and drinking gin to hide her feelings. She was an alcoholic by her 20s.

Harris fought his trial in the newsrooms as well as in the court. He appointed Margaret Thatcher’s former publicist Abel Hadden to advise him on press strategy. And his defence seemed to have been planned with more than half an eye on how it would play outside court. The trial judge allowed Harris, on the first day of his evidence in chief, to impersonate a didgeridoo and a wobble board and to sing his 1965 song, Jake the Peg. Few people other than celebrities are allowed such freedom to perform under oath. Harris attended court daily, presenting himself to be photographed with his wife Alwen and his daughter Bindi.

It is often the case in sexual harassment trials that the accused fits his evidence to what he knows of the case against him, admitting only as much as he feels compelled to admit, and otherwise conceding as little as he can get away with conceding. So it was also with Rolf Harris.

During his cross examination, Harris made a number of admissions which came within a whisker of conceding the charges against him. He accepted that he had had sex repeatedly with the principal complainant, although where the victim said that she had been 13 at the time that Harris first had sex with her, and he had been 48, Harris said that it had not begun until she was five years older.

He admitted hiding the relationship from his daughter, Bindi, and wife, Alwen, for many years. He accepted telling the thirteen year old girl that she looked attractive in a bikini, and admitted (how could he deny it?) that the comment had had a sexual overtone. He accepted the prosecution’s description of his arrival each day at court with his wife and daughter as “a show” for the cameras.

In another exchange, which could only have further antagonised the members of the jury, Harris accepted that his relationship with the complainant, the closest friend of his daughter Bindi, had been “sex with no frills”. The most he could remember discussing with her was the need to wipe his sperm from her sheets.

There will doubtless be plenty of people on the left whose starting response is to believe Harris is innocent, despite everything, or to insist privately that the state should have no part in our lives, and to regret his conviction. I wish we had a different justice system where women victims did not have to rely on the institutions of our existing state. But we are decades of victories away from being in that situation.

The task for the left, now, is to show Harris’ victims, and all the victims of sexual harassment, that we are on their side, that we start by believing them, and that their struggles for justice are just as central as any strike to our vision of socialism.

All around the world, there is a growing movement against the toleration of sexual violence against women. It is visible in Egypt, India and in Britain. This rising politics shapes the way in which people have responded to the accusations against Harris. Ten years ago, the popular consensus would have been that the accusations were groundless, and Harris an innocent old man.

A Companion of the British Empire, who eight years ago painted the Queen, Harris is not short of the ruling class connections which once protected Jimmy Savile. And yet, despite these allies, his conviction is most likely to have a destabilising effect, corroding the stereotypes with which rape and sexual violence are surrounded.

Harris’ conviction makes it harder to sustain the cliché that “good men” don’t rape, and makes it easier for women complainants everywhere to be believed.

 

There are 19 comments

  1. Rolf Harris is Guilty | lives; running

    […] One theme running through the evidence given by the the women assaulted by Rolf Harris was the destructive effect his behaviour has continued to have on their lives. One witness Tonya Lee descried suffering anorexia and bulimia after being grabbed by Harris. She said that after being assaulted by Harris she had considered killing herself. A second woman, 11, when Harris kissed the inside of her mouth, told the court that she cannot bear now to be kissed in that way, not even by her husband. The principal complainant, 13 and happy at the time when Harris began abusing her, described feeling panic afterwards, and drinking gin to hide her feelings. She was an alcoholic by her 20s… More here […]

  2. mhairi

    “There will doubtless be plenty of people on the left whose starting response is to believe Harris is innocent, despite everything, or to insist privately that the state should have no part in our lives, and to regret his conviction.”
    Still? We *STILL* have these people kicking around the left??? After Sheridan and his sex clubs? After Galloway and his “no need to ask before every insertion”? After Smith and his rapes? Who are these “plenty of people” and why do we still tolerate them? We need to get them kicked out, tout suite.
    In Egypt, three is sexual torture going on in gaols, in India an MP has just threatened to get men to rape women members of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), in Britain a victim who goes to the police with a complaint of rape is approximately 6x more likely to be prosecuted for making a false allegation than her rapist is to be convicted.
    If this is progress we have a long way to go.

  3. Callum McCormick

    There will doubtless be plenty of people on the left whose starting response is to believe Harris is innocent, despite everything, or to insist privately that the state should have no part in our lives, and to regret his conviction. I wish we had a different justice system where women victims did not have to rely on the institutions of our existing state. But we are decades of victories away from being in that situation.”
    An amazing thing to say. Any evidence? Who are you talking about?

  4. arjay

    As if anyone on the left would support Harris . It’s totally barking mad to say that they would . This article was obviously written by someone with a few old axes to grind .

  5. todd

    What a dreadful article. Renton gives no examples or any evidence at all for his claim. Given he is a highly paid barrister you would have thought this may be one area when he would be strong. All I can say is if this is how he conducts himself in court I would not advise anyone to hire this clown. RS21 really do have idiot in their leadership who frankly would be better off writing for the weekly worker. This is secarian junk at its worst.

  6. Rob Owen

    To be frank the words are not my own and are not something I would include in an article. However, there is an important point being alluded to. The arguments used to defend figures the left (by a minority) could easily be applied to the Harris case. Some of the arguments used last year during the crisis find (what should be) an uncomfortable echo. Obviously crisis within the far left are overlaid with a set of secondary issues which distract from the real issues (conveniently and genuinely) for instance around potential witch hunt. I would assume the point Dave is making is just this: the left wouldn’t really support Harris so why do some deploy similar arguments to defend left wing figures?

    I’ve learnt a huge amount about the politics of consent and conduct in the last year that suggest a better way of understanding these questions. We are all pray to societal prejudices unless we are part of a political culture that ruthlessly questions and challenges them. While this poke won’t help start that process inside the necessary sections of the left – the experience of last year should.

  7. Janet

    Just say the obvious Rob..Renton in this article is a bullshitter..dont try and jusify it. If another organsiation wrote an article with this method you would be jumping up and down crying foul. Renton’s assertion cannot be backed up because its a pile of bull but RS21 is becoming the home of “everyone else on the left is dreadful except us “..very poor that you only come on the comments section when others are critical. The fact that no RS21 member could be bothered to comment suggests either they agree or the interent as the focus for debate and open dialouge etc etc is a bit over hyped.

  8. Rob Owen

    Janet,

    I’d advise a sense of balance. I’d assume you agree with the article bar one line. It is not Dave who comes across badly when any criticism of the politics of sexual conduct brings a stream of defensive and aggressive comments from members of the SWP. It is a matter of public record that various people of the left have said appalling things on exactly this sort of question.

    The left is clearly better then most institutions in society (though we should be held to higher standards). Thinking through how we become tribunes of the oppressed on issues of sexual violence should not be controversial.

  9. James

    I think it’s the lie in the article that stands out and that this is simply posted by rs21 with no other comment by fellow members indicates a method of anything goes when accusing the left and in particularly the SWP. I would have thought that Mr Renton being involved in the legal profession may have thought his claim to be one which may be challenged and the fact that he has no evidence to back it up means it’s an article which has a huge problem with it…it’s based on a simple lie. He may want to do this for dramatic effect or perhaps he believes it but whatever the truth is, don’t be surprised when people question an article on your site. The only response from Mr Owen is it’s all the SWP’s fault. Sorry but the article is dreadful and if RS21 members think otherwise then heaven help us!

  10. bat020 (@bat020)

    “indicates a method of anything goes when accusing the left and in particularly the SWP” Really? Talk me through your logic here. How does one passing sentence in a 700 word article “indicate a method”? And if it does do that, presumably we can take it that your monomaniac obsession with David Renton also “indicates a method”?

    Incidentally if David had meant to accuse the SWP in particular he’d have said so. He’s not shy on this subject. I suspect what he actually had in mind was the far broader left culture of dismissing sexual abuse issues in the name of “free love” – something that was all too common on the left in the 1970s though is thankfully pretty marginal these days.

  11. James

    So it’s marginal these days but the article says loads of people on the left support Rolf Harris…can’t you just admit it..it’s a shit article and has no basis in fact. Something a highly paid barrister should be able to fathom out! It’s ok to say its a poor piece..don’t be so high and mighty about it. I would have some respect if you just say what is patently true..it’s crap!

  12. bat020 (@bat020)

    I’m happy to admit that particular line is overwrought. But you seem to be saying a little bit more than that – you seem to be saying that the whole article is “shit”. Which makes me think it’s not just that particular line you have a problem with.

  13. James

    The problem Bat020 is that you turned a blind eye to the central piece of bullshit and fabrication in the article. Indeed a comment very early on says how awful it is that the
    left were supporting Harris…you posted nothing in reply and let’s be honest you love the internet and are not slow to offer your views on a range of topics. I can only assume you thought it was not worth commenting on the fact that Renton had claimed something totally untrue. RS21 does itself no service at all by making up lies about the rest of the left.

  14. Neil Rogall

    This is the controversial bit: There will doubtless be plenty of people on the left whose starting response is to believe Harris is innocent, despite everything, or to insist privately that the state should have no part in our lives, and to regret his conviction” I think it is misjudged, but it does not refer to the SWP unless you think they are immanent all rs21 discussions. To be frank I think the left has had some ambiguous positions in the past, certainly in the 60s and 70s. And today. For example I know of a leading comrade who said how sad it was that youngsters did not have the same attitude to sexual freedom that we had our youth.

  15. abuckland

    The article is very weak and poor because it wants to be controversial..end of and lets leave it at that. I personally don’t think Neil and Rob’s defense of the statement is very convincing but lets leave it at that.

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