The man leading the child sex abuse royal commission in Australia says the conviction in London of predator Rolf Harris is likely to encourage more victims to come forward.
Justice Peter McClellan, who chairs the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse, is set to tell an audience in Sydney on Saturday that victims who have suffered in silence for years are finally opening up thanks to high-profile court cases and inquiries, and public condemnation of historical abuse.
His comments come after Harris – once an iconic entertainer, now a convicted sex offender – was sentenced in a London court to five years and nine months behind bars for a string of indecent assaults against four young girls in the UK between 1968 and 1986.
“Newspaper reports suggest that as a consequence of the publicity and the jury’s verdict more victims have come forward,” Justice McClellan will say.
“This is not surprising.
“It is becoming apparent as we do our work that as the issue of abuse is raised and talked about, survivors increasingly feel able to bring their own story to the authorities.
“That which may have been kept secret for years may now be told. The burden of guilt and shame which many have felt is lifted by knowing that others who have suffered have overcome their reticence.”
Harris may be released in under three years, although his sentence has been referred for a possible appeal to increase its length.
His barrister Sonia Woodley QC pleaded for a degree of leniency because of the 84-year-old’s “limited lifespan” and poor health.
“Every day, every month in prison is going to shorten his life,” she said.
But Justice McClellan says from the victims’ perspective, the age of a sex offender should not protect him from the consequences of his crimes.
“Our experience in speaking with survivors tells us that those who have suffered from Harris’s criminal acts will believe that, notwithstanding his age, Harris must be punished for his actions,” he said.
“They have suffered and, in their minds, so must he.”