Rolf Harris was an imposing figure throughout much of my childhood.

I recollect a fun-loving, creative, highly amusing and very entertaining man. That image seems to have been a mirage. Behind the mask was a dark and sinister tale of sexual abuse of defenceless people.

Because of how I had been groomed by the carefully cultivated public persona of Rolf Harris, my first reaction was one of disbelief. No. This cannot be! Others yes, but Rolf, no.

I now understand that the disbelief of individuals and communities is one of the things that perpetrators trade on.

  • Because we don’t want to think that such horrible things can happen in our communities be they churches, schools or other entities part of our natural defence system is to disbelieve such accusations.
  • Accepting that it can happen in our safe place can be too confronting.
  • When you combine that with the perpetrator being a trusted individual in the community it become s a potent force for disbelief and denial.

I have often wondered why people have not reported what they have seen or thought. I am sure disbelief and denial form a strong part of the reason. People think that what they think they saw and heard must be in their imagination. It can’t just be true can it?

And so, because of our tendency towards disbelief and denial perpetrators persist under the cloak of secrecy, until some brave soul fronts up and unearths their long-hidden shame of being abused. Thankfully, it seems now that when this happens we are listening, we are willing to get over our inherent denial and deal with these awful things that rock the core of our humanity.

I have been helped greatly in my understanding of the communal complexities of this topic by reading Patrick Parkinson’s book Child sexual abuse and the churches; Understanding the issues (Aquila Press, 2003) and highly recommend it.