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Harris is just like all abusers

This opinion piece is about 10 years old

Alison Todd from Children 1st on the lessons we can learn from the Rolf Harris case

Alison Todd, chief executive, Children 1st
Alison Todd, chief executive, Children 1st

The famous can sometimes have a power over us – we feel like we know them when we really don’t. But I want to remind everyone that celebrities use the same confidence tricks that most abusers do. They are friendly, helpful people who make life easier by showing interest in children. Most abuse happens within families and communities and is hidden in plain sight.

Channel 4 news presenter Jon Snow, who has written movingly about his own abuse as a six year old, blogged “Thank God my abuser wasn’t famous”, imagining how every new television appearance by Harris must have haunted his victims.

I wonder to myself how that differs from a child whose abuser sits at the same dinner table as them, or who holds some other position of trust and authority within the family or community? It is always hard for a child to speak up.

For 130 years, first as the Royal Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and now as Children 1st, we’ve been listening to children and families and we know that it takes all of us to keep children safe. That’s why Children 1st launched the See. Hear. Speak. Act campaign.

When young people are vulnerable we must see them. When they ask for support we must hear them. When they are not able to, we must speak on their behalf. Act today to put children first.

We must take the time to notice changes in children’s behaviour and to let them talk and be heard. We must take all their fears seriously so they keep sharing their problems.

People spoke up and Rolf Harris is now a convicted sex offender. This should send a message to people who have been abused that they will be heard and believed. But a guilty verdict is only one part of what needs to happen. Those who have suffered need help to recover. Children 1st runs abuse and trauma recovery services in many areas of Scotland but we often have long waiting lists.

One of our ambassadors, Jess, suffered horrendous abuse as a child. She has told us what our help meant to her:

“Being abused shatters your world. It’s all-consuming, it takes over your life. People feel guilty, ashamed, embarrassed – they feel like it’s their fault. Teenagers have it in their head that nobody cares anyway – when you throw problems and abuse into the mix as well, it makes it even worse. I didn’t believe anybody could understand what I was going through. Over the time that I came to Killen those walls got broken down and I was able to see that things would get better.”

If you have concerns about a child you can contact ParentLine Scotland, our confidential helpline and email service, on 08000 28 22 33 or [email protected]. Click here for more information about See. Hear. Speak. Act.

Alison Todd is chief excutive of Children 1st.