Does Rolf Harris’s conviction mean anything?

Content note: this post discusses rape and sexual violence

The news has just broken that entertainer Rolf Harris has been found guilty of all of the charges of indecent assault he was tried for. My thoughts go out to the survivors; I hope that they feel a sense of closure and justice after they bravely came forward.

Harris’s conviction follows hot on the heels of Max Clifford, who was convicted and imprisoned for similar offences early this year. Does this mean that the tide is finally turning on the rapists and the abusers, the men who use their power to violate?

Sadly, the answer is, probably not. Rolf Harris sexually assaulted these women more than three decades ago. It has taken this long for the climate to be right for his survivors to seek justice. This timespan is completely unacceptable, allowing Harris to live out his life before the state even started to care.

The picture is still gloomy for survivors. While the CPS may brag that rape convictions are at an all time high, it still translates into a measly 1070 convictions in a year, despite over 15,000 reports. And even when convicted, what does that mean? If you get raped by a powerful man, the negatives can easily outweigh the benefits of reporting: take, for example, the woman who had the misfortune of being raped by footballer Ched Evans. Her name was leaked to the internet by keyboard warriors, and her rapist will be playing football for Sheffield United again before long.

Perhaps at some point in the future, the state will consider the perpetrators of today finally worthy of their attention. I fear a kind of delayed-reaction mechanism, a focus on the historic rather than the current. By looking at it like that, it’s easy to view structural conditions favouring rapists as a thing of the past, as though rape culture stopped at some point in the Seventies. It absolves responsibility of the present, despite the fact that things are still objectively terrible where we’re standing.


But more than anything, I want to reiterate my admiration for the courage of the women who came forward in a system which still tends against believing survivors, in a system where powerful men are worshipped and women degraded, in a system which seldom doles out any justice for survivors. I couldn’t do what they did, and neither can millions of others. I hope they feel peace at last.

4 thoughts on “Does Rolf Harris’s conviction mean anything?”

  1. “Ignorant arrogance”: ignorance in the sense of wilful not-knowing right from wrong, and arrogance in the sense of total self-deception about what had been done. Both can be regarded as a combination of lack of real education and “culture”, where culture is what people do and can get away with. Sadly, changing “culture” is very slow, perhaps a couple of generations.

  2. ‘As though rape culture stopped at some point in the seventies’: yes, this is exactly how a bunch of people are choosing to react to news stories about Rolf Harris, Jimmy Saville etc. and it’s awful. Thank you for explaining it so clearly.

  3. Terrible situation I think Harris should have had a longer sentence he won’t do the full term anyway I would not have thought personally. He has been found guilty by a jury all the evidence points to his guilt over a number of years. His victims have had to endure all the heartache again in court which he inflicted on them when he sexually abused them If he would have admitted his crimes to the police maybe this situation would not have occurred. I was so shocked when all this blew up as I though Rolf Harris a man of charm and a very caring human being. Hi wife must be so devastated and what must his daughter think personally I would not want to associate with him again my anger for his crimes would be to difficult for me to deal with.

  4. Another point I forgot to mention in my previous comment the fact that Harris has appeared to show no remorse for his sexual abuse to his victims this I also find shocking.

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