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.