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Rolf Harris not the only 'octopus' in entertainment

Date

Tracey Spicer

If this was Rolf’s last performance, it has been an intriguing drama.

If this was Rolf’s last performance, it has been an intriguing drama. Photo: Reuters

Rolf Harris was known as “the Octopus”. But he wasn’t the only one.

During 25 years in television, I was warned by colleagues about dozens of stars who would grope, molest or harass anyone who took their fancy.

These include a presenter who is a household name.

Two years ago, a young co-worker came to me in tears. She was trying to produce his radio show, but he kept putting his hand up her skirt.

I advised her to complain to the boss; he advised her to wear jeans instead of skirts.

“That way, he won’t be able to grab your undies,” he said, satisfied he’d solved the problem.

Needless to say, the sexual harassment continued.

It was the same story during decades of drama production at one of this country’s finest theatres.

The cast and crew felt powerless to stop the powerbroker who – after too many champagnes – groped their groins.

Some of these productions starred children: There was no duty of care.

“The show must go on”, as it did in the case of Hey Dad..! star Robert Hughes.

The producers of the top-rating show turned a blind eye.

One of his victims, co-star Sarah Monahan, has paid tribute to the women who gave evidence against Rolf Harris, but says there’s “a ways to go” in terms of speaking out against celebrity perpetrators.

“I know there’s several people in Australia who are wondering whether to speak up about others in the industry. You don’t have to go public like I did, but please go to the police,” she writes on her website.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse reveals a historical culture of silence in certain organisations.

“The need to protect the reputation of the organisation or industry is sadly sometimes given precedence over the protection of children,” says Bravehearts criminologist Carol Ronken.

This is compounded when the offender is in a position of power, trust or celebrity.

“Victims may be told, or may just believe, that because of who the offender is, no one will believe them.”

This was the fear expressed by one of Harris’ victims, who was his “blow up doll” from the age of 13.

“I was just so scared of him. He is a huge character and I just thought I didn’t stand a chance,” she told the court.

Prosecutors say the 84-year-old abused at least 19 women and children, including a West Australian radio host and ABC TV newsreader, but decided to concentrate on the strongest cases.

I wonder how many more are out there, suffering in silence? Personally, I know three.

The freelance hair and makeup artists dreaded working with the veteran entertainer.

“Yeah, we take bets on who he’s going to grope first,” one said, rolling her eyes. “That’s why we call him the Octopus: before you know it, there are hands everywhere.”

“It’s disgusting, but what do you do? I can’t afford to lose a shift.”

Director of Media at the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, Paul Murphy, says the union offers “every support to people in that situation, including legal assistance”.

He worries workers are too frightened to come forward.

“It’s beyond bad behaviour in the workplace; it’s actually criminal behaviour,” he says.

Still, asking them to speak out is not enough.

“We need to create systems that provide victims with avenues to speak out that do not disempower or re-victimise them,” Ronken says.

Harris’ conviction sends a strong message: It doesn’t matter how rich, powerful or famous you are; you’re not beyond the law.

Perhaps it will make the remaining consortium of octopi think twice before grabbing yet another victim.

226 comments

  • Don't worry. Workchoices Mk 2 will fix all that. We won't have to hear about any more complaints.

    Commenter
    Party Stooge
    Date and time
    July 02, 2014, 6:12AM
    • Way to make a serious issue a joke with political nonsense. The fact that it is suggested that there is a person currently hosting a radio program who is a household name who has a history of serious sexual assaults shows how far we have to go and how serious this issue is. Such comments also cast a shadow over the innocent radio hosts who come under suspicion because of this story. There are many victims but those who have been indecently assualted should come forward and report him to the police.

      Commenter
      the_Truth
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      July 02, 2014, 7:11AM
    • . im more inclined to think its global warming..

      Commenter
      davem
      Location
      sydney
      Date and time
      July 02, 2014, 7:20AM
    • What a stupid comment. This has nothing to do with politics.

      Commenter
      Paul
      Date and time
      July 02, 2014, 8:06AM
    • So none of this happened under labors laws did it. what a dumb comment.

      Commenter
      What the
      Date and time
      July 02, 2014, 8:08AM
    • @PArty Stooge - I would have thought this was far too serious an issue to seek to reduce it to banal political mud slinging - this is nothing to do with IR laws but more criminal law. the more publicity with serious discussion the better

      Commenter
      JM64
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      July 02, 2014, 8:36AM
    • I knew from the late 70's that Harris was a disgusting man. I took my three small children to one of his concerts (front row seats) in Canberra. We lined up afterwards for autographs. I was clutching my six year old daughter's hand in the line up - which was backstage and comprised, ahead of me at least, of about twenty unaccompanied little boys. When we reached the great man, he gave me the dirtiest look I've ever had. His sneering unpleasantness has lived with me ever since. I've always wondered what I did to deserve it...now I have my answer.

      Commenter
      EBAB
      Location
      St Lucia
      Date and time
      July 02, 2014, 8:51AM
    • Actually before everyone jumps down Party Stooges throat, the article did say person couldnt afford to lose a shift and one of the bosses said to wear jeans.....so yes in addition to this being a seriously sick and criminal issue it is very much an Industrial Relations issue. It happens in all industries and workers are too scared to raise it with managers and supervisors because Companies come first. Just as ratings come first in entertainment industry. Neither major party can be proud of their track record on protection for workers (particularly vunerable workers) and sadly any department i.e HR or organisation i.e. Trade Union there to help these poor workers have become a sick joke in themselves

      Commenter
      kicks with the right and left boot
      Date and time
      July 02, 2014, 9:00AM
    • Every time the press publishes stories such as this we should remind ourselves that most molestation is done by somebody known to the victim, often a relative or friend of the family. It's a societal problem that should be addressed constantly not just when a crime like this hits the press.

      Commenter
      Look in your own backyard too
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      July 02, 2014, 9:37AM
    • name names Tracey

      Commenter
      Gaz
      Location
      Yarrawonga
      Date and time
      July 02, 2014, 9:46AM

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