I have to admit that, as a survivor of child abuse and a victim of groping in my teens, I was really pleased to see Rolf Harris convicted and given a prison sentence last week. Every time this happens, it gives me hope that, one day, my abusers might be brought to trial too. I feel huge relief on behalf of the victims.
However, I was then directed to this blog post. I read it with increasing alarm, not because it casts doubt on Rolf Harris’ conviction, but because of all the references to uncorroborated memories as evidence. For me, this is the main reason why I have never reported the abuse I suffered.
In 2006, the school where I was abused conducted an “independent” internal inquiry into the reports of abuse there in the 1970s and 80s. As a part of this inquiry, I was asked to write a submission, detailing as far as I could all the abuse I had suffered, giving dates, places and names where possible. I found this very difficult. The abuse I suffered happened when I was between the ages of four and fourteen. As Mr Rothbard says in his blog post:
“Consider for a moment, what you can accurately remember from when you were eight? I am not as old as the witness but I can’t remember the name of my best friend, my teacher, my birthday party, frankly anything. I have a childhood scar, it must have been caused by a significant trauma. I remember it hurt and bled a lot, but I can’t remember how it happened, let alone where, when or who was with me at the time.”
All my memories were like this. I could remember the specific details of the acts of abuse I suffered, but I found it impossible to remember exactly how old I was when the abuse occurred or what year it was. That ten-year period is like a continuum in my brain, with specific incidents strung along it in only a very vague order. Even though I believe that each incident is clear in my memory, that is also impossible to prove.
This is the problem which faces the judicial system when something like this case arises. My main issue with the Libertarian View blog post is that Mr Rothbard is basing his assumptions on what has been reported in the media. Even his links to other sources are to online newspaper articles. I find it hard to believe that any jury, faced with only the “facts” that have been reported in the media, would have been able to convict Rolf Harris beyond reasonable doubt. I don’t think any of my abusers would be found guilty on my evidence either. There must have been something else which swayed the jury’s decision. Of course, it could well be that this is a massive miscarriage of justice, but one can’t assume that based only on the fact that the victims’ memories are unreliable.
I believe that we have to be careful how we judge our judicial system when we don’t have all the facts. The only people who know what really went on at Rolf Harris’ trial are those who were in the courtroom. Unless one of them decides to tell all, we will never know what evidence was presented to the trial which the media were not allowed to see/report on.
By all means cast doubt on a conviction, but using only media reports of the trial to do so is lazy, and disrespectful to those of us who suffered abuse in childhood. Our memories may well be fragmented, but that does not mean the abuse did not happen.