Groped by Harris on live TV
Two female celebrities say they were sexually assaulted by Rolf Harris with one taking place during an interview on live TV.PT0M0S 620 349
It’s been less than a week since Rolf Harris was sentenced to a prison term of five years and nine months for charges relating to the indecent assault of four girls between 1968 and 1986, and already there are more allegations of abuse emerging against the former entertainer.
British radio host Vanessa Feltz and singer Linda Nolan have both waived their legal right to anonymity in the revelation of their claims against Harris. Nolan alleges that Harris assaulted her in 1975 during a concert tour in South Africa. The singer told The Mirror that Harris cornered her in a hallway and groped her breasts while kissing and licking the back of her neck. After pleading with him to stop, Nolan says Harris laughed it off and said, “Don’t be silly, I’m only giving you a hug.” She told the Mirror, ““It was horrendous and humiliating, but he made me feel like I was a dramatic, silly little girl so I felt embarrassed. I just went back to the dressing room, blushing, and didn’t tell a soul.”
Rolf Harris, pictured arriving at Southwark Crown Court for sentencing last week. Photo: Dominic Lipinski
Meanwhile, in an exclusive interview with the Sunday Express over the weekend, Feltz, a former TV presenter who currently presents a radio show on BBC Radio 2, said that Harris assaulted her during a live television segment in 1996 while filming an ‘On The Bed’ segment for Channel 4’s The Big Breakfast.
“I was lying on cushions on the bed in a long, flowing, floor-length, heavily beaded evening dress,” Feltz said. “He was sitting very close. As the interview continued, with his wife watching and with the crew all in the room, I suddenly felt a rustling at the hem of my dress.”
Feltz goes on to describe a brazen assault throughout the duration of the live interview in which Harris’ hand crept further up her leg “at speed”. Within a few seconds, Feltz alleges Harris had managed to his hand inside the elastic of her underwear. Faced with the familiar feelings of uncertainty, shock and disgust that accompany many sexual assaults, Feltz recalls struggling with the “natural instinct” to put her hand out to stop him while worrying about upsetting his wife or the children watching at home. Ultimately, she interrupted the interview to cut to an ad break so she could be given some kind of excuse to get away from him. When she returned to set, she says Harris was laughing and joking as if nothing had happened.
Photographers scramble for pictures of Rolf Harris after he was sentenced in Southwark Crown Court on Friday. Photo: Bogdan Maran
For those unfamiliar with the pattern or procedure of indecent or sexual assault, such a response might seem baffling. Why would Feltz simply ‘allow’ this to happen without intervening?
In reality, it’s not unusual for sexual abuse survivors to experience a freeze response during an assault, nor is it rare. Predators like Rolf Harris rely on the silence and shock of their victims in order to get away with their assaults - indeed, it is part of the revolting thrill for them. As Feltz has said of the alleged incident, “I have not a shadow of a doubt that he knew exactly what he was doing and he was getting excited about it, doing what he was doing while he was on live television.”
Sexual assault is all about power. The sickening rewards that these things bring are not about transitory physical pleasures but the reassurance of one’s own superiority and entitlement.
British TV presenter Vanessa Feltz. Photo: Getty Images
But what makes the individual sins of Harris any worse than your garden variety indecent assaults occurring throughout people’s homes, in schoolyards, in pubs and across cities and countries all around the world? Leaving aside the enormous privilege bestowed on Harris that for so many years allowed him to hide in plain sight, the answer is nothing. Sexual assault exists on a continuum, which means that everything - from the tiniest of microaggressions to the most egregious cases of abuse - are connected. The reason men like Harris are able to get away with their crimes for as long as they do is because this continuum also contributes to a culture of self doubt and self blame.
I have friends who’ve been groped in bars by men who refuse to consider that what they’ve done constitutes a crime, instead demanding that these women stop ‘overreacting’. But Linda Nolan’s feelings of embarrassment at possibly being a ‘dramatic, silly little girl’ are not unusual. Nor is it strange that in the midst of an indecent assault Vanessa Feltz was worried about upsetting her abuser’s wife. Women are taught at a very deep level to dismiss and ignore the aggressions directed at them, including those involving sexual or indecent assault. Don’t make a fuss. It was a joke. He didn’t mean it. You’re being silly.
Let this be clear to anyone reading. ‘Groping’ is not a harmless prank, nor is it just a case of boys being boys. It is a form of sexual assault and it can have devastating effects. Dismissing it as harmless is an act of participation in the idea that bodies - especially those of children and women - are not entitled to dignity and autonomy.
Rolf Harris abused women and children for decades. Encounters that sometimes lasted only a few minutes wrought lifelong consequences for his victims. Why, if we are to condemn it in him, must we dismiss it as a silly mistake in others?
We need to stop erring on the side of abusive behaviour to avoid being accused of ‘overreacting’. This mass social disregard for the rights of victims is precisely what hurts them in the first place, and leads to them staying silent.