The most shocking part of the Hey Dad! cast interview.
Last night I watched A Current Affair and frankly, I need to debrief. One thousand different thoughts and emotions are swirling around my head and I don’t even quite know where to start in unpacking it all.
Let’s start with the fact that last night’s show was four years in the making. Or 27 years in the making if we’re going to be honest.
Last night I finally watched the cast of ’80s sitcom Hey Dad! (a show I watched as a teen) reunite and openly discuss the dirty little secret they’d all kept for decades: the lead actor in the show – Robert Hughes who played the affable ‘dad’ Martin Kelly– was in reality a manipulative, cunning paedophile who sexually assaulted children on – and off – the set.
This week Hughes was found guilty of 10 charges of sexual and indecent assault of young girls – his on-screen daughter and others, including friends of his real-life daughter – dating back to the 1980s. And I’m sitting here thinking about how a young girl – a 10-year-old actress– was sexually abused by a man she trusted. How, somehow, this little girl summoned the inconceivable courage to tell the adults in her life about the abuse, only to have the majority of them fail her. To turn a blind eye. Sarah Monahan’s abuser, you see, was the adult ‘star’ of the series and she was rocking the boat.
Watching Tracy Grimshaw’s interview, I was deeply affected by two of Sarah’s former co-stars, Ben Oxenbould and Simone Buchanan, and the extraordinary courage and friendship they showed in speaking up and reporting Sarah’s abuse. When every other adult turned their backs on the little girl by pretending not to know or sweeping it under the carpet or saying to her “just don’t sit on his lap anymore”, it was Simone and Ben (who were 18 and 20 at the time) who stepped up, who went to the show’s Executive Producer Gary Reilly and demanded action. Simone and Ben who – when nothing appeared to change – then took turns ‘guarding’ Sarah from her molester so that she was never left alone with a serial paedophile.
You want a definition of friendship? Of courage? There it is.
Fortunately, some things have certainly changed in the entertainment industry. There are more laws now. More red-tape when it comes to child actors, chaperones, work hours and safety.
But this culture of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ – shockingly still appears to be alive and well.
This culture of ‘shut up if you want to stay employed’ seems to remain, according to Ben and Simone.
Because last night both actors spoke of the retribution they’ve experienced since going public in their support for Sarah in 2010. The hate mail they received.
The abuse from members of the public who have bailed them up on the street and accused them of ‘ruining their favourite show’. (I can’t even get my head around that.) And – worst of all – the fact that their industry closed ranks on them.
Sarah Monahan stopped acting after Hey Dad! and left Australia as a young adult. But Simone and Ben stayed and continued to work as actors. Or at least they tried. Last night, both recounted numerous examples of missing out on work after being told by producers or casting agents that they were “tainted” by the scandal and their role in speaking out in support of Sarah.
Simone and Ben blew a whistle. And how incredibly bizarre and troubling that the Australian entertainment industry by and large shunned them. Don’t ask, don’t tell. Don’t rock the boat.
You know what those two could have done? Saved themselves. Not gotten involved. Looked after their own best interests. When you’re an actor, work is hard to come by. Why cause trouble for yourself? Why piss off your boss? Casting agents? Scriptwriters? Lead actors?
Except they didn’t do that. Simone and Ben took a stand. And for that, I want to throw them a ticker-tape parade. I want them to be held up as examples of what it is to be a great human being. They dared to speak up and in doing so, in backing up Sarah’s claims, they helped bring a predator to justice.
In life, there comes a time when we are all forced to ask and answer the questions: What do I stand for? What are my values? Where is my line in the sand?
There comes a time when we have to decide whether we will speak up or sit back. Will we say anything about the bullying we see? About the abuse we notice? About the lies we witness?
I applaud Sarah Monahan for speaking up and for her courage and determination and persistence in bringing Robert Hughes to justice and for shining a light into the dark, dingy crevices of their industry.
By coming forward, Sarah encouraged and inspired Hughes’ numerous other victims in the community to also come forward and tell their truths. Finally, they have been believed and experienced the justice I imagine they craved.
I wish for Sarah a marvellous, happy life.
To Ben Oxenbould and Simone Buchanan, I say this: you are the epitome of integrity and compassion and goodness. I wish that every child who was being abused today had a champion like you, a guardian angel like you both, in their corner. After all, evil flourishes when good men do nothing.
And as for any other adult who knows or suspects instances of child abuse and who are knowingly covering it up? You’re on notice.
At first, I thought this story was about the TV industry. But it’s not. Because the covering up of child sexual abuse is everywhere. In the armed forces. The church. Sporting associations. Schools. Families. Everywhere there are people turning a blind eye. Looking away. Pretending not to notice that a child is being molested. Not wanting to rock the boat. Last night’s episode of A Current Affair will no doubt have left many people wanting to debrief about what unfolded. Today someone knows or suspects that a child is being sexually abused and they need to ask themselves: What are my values? What do I stand for? Where is my line in the sand?
If you know or suspect a child is being sexually assaulted, please call the Police on 000, the Department of Child Services in your state or territory or Bravehearts on 1800 272 831.
This post first appeared on Mamamia.com.au
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Over the past 25 years Rebecca Sparrow has earned a living as a travel writer, a television publicist, a marketing executive, a magazine editor, a TV scriptwriter, a radio producer, a newspaper columnist and as an author.
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