Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Rolf Harris convicted: It's no joke to trivialise the victims of a sex monster

Rolf Harris

Want to hear a hilarious joke? Girls as young as seven were abused by a man they trusted and it took decades for the legal system to finally care. My sides are splitting.

Following the conviction of Rolf Harris on 12 counts of indecent assault, the internet has been awash with the inevitable deluge of wags who think they have something funny to say about sexual violence.

Immediately after opening Facebook, I was assailed by people whom I used to sit next to in maths class at my secondary school suddenly fancying themselves the ultimate master comedians with a little light humour about a predator and his victims. Twitter was similarly infested with a mass of quips which were as unimaginatively repetitive as they were in hideously bad taste.

All the while, others wailed that Rolf Harris had ruined their childhood, with no thought given to the four victims who went through hell at Harris's hands.

None of this strikes me as a laughing matter. The recent investigations into historic sex abuse from Jimmy Savile to Max Clifford to Rolf Harris have unearthed a culture with literally hundreds of victims.

To them, the vulnerable children, the hospital patients, the young women, this is surely the very anathema of funny.

And if there is dark humour to be found in what happened, it is theirs alone to find, not that of someone with a keyboard and overinflated perceptions of their own comic stylings.

The fact of the matter is, a lot of people have experienced sexual violence at the hands of a powerful man. It took Rolf Harris's victims decades to get justice, because it took so long for the climate to be right to come forward.

Sexual abuse and violence were ingrained in culture, men like Rolf Harris were nearly untouchable. The victims had to live with that for most of their lives before finally being able to come forward; meanwhile, their abuser got to live out his life and become a national treasure who got to paint a picture of the Queen.

To joke about this is to laugh at the misery of others, but worse still, it is to maintain the frighteningly prevalent belief that all of this is no big deal.

When the news broke, the first thing my brain did was begin flipping through things I knew about Rolf Harris, and then juxtaposing them with the news in an ironic fashion.

Yes, my immediate reaction was to begin constructing jokes, almost automatically. Just like everyone else, I have been bombarded with messages my whole life that sexual violence is kind of trivial, something which can be treated lightly.

I can understand easily the compulsion to crack jokes under these circumstances, because due to the socialisation we've all received, it's a sort of go-to coping mechanism.

I didn't post any of them, because I knew it wasn't right. I know that if anything is to change, we need to resist these urges to keep on acting like sexual abuse is a normal part of life.

We need to let down the walls and allow ourselves to feel empathy with victims, to think about what they have lived through and how we can build a society that will stop this ever happening to anyone again.

The conviction of Rolf Harris wasn't a comedy, it was the climax to a tragedy that marred decades of his victims' lives.

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