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.
In a way, this blog stands as a sort of “IN B4 THE INEVITABLE COMMENT PIECES ABOUT HOW THE SEVENTIES WERE A HIVE OF RAPE AND NOW WE’RE ALL RIGHT JACK”.
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.