UK

Rolf Harris abuse victim 'wanted to die'

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Rolf Harris was a popular entertainment figure in both the United Kingdom and Australia

One of the victims of a sexual assault by Rolf Harris has spoken of how that abuse led her to contemplate taking her own life.

"I don't know how he lives his life day-to-day and I don't know how he sleeps at night."

Tonya Lee, 43, from Australia, fought back tears as she recounted the story of how she suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a much-loved and trusted household name.

Of the 12 counts that Harris faced, three related to Ms Lee, who said the assaults took place when she was aged 14 and in London on a theatre trip in 1986.

The mother-of-three has waived her right to anonymity and told the court Harris assaulted her at the start of her theatre group's six-week visit to the UK.

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Media captionVictim Tonya Lee waived her anonymity to tell Channel Nine about her ordeal

"This has impacted me in ways you can't imagine and in ways that can't be taken back," she told the A Current Affair programme, on Australia's Channel 9.

"I put it out of my head for so many years. I just buried it and buried it and buried it.

"To this day I can't go to sleep without lying in a lounge and having the TV on. I cannot lie in a room and try and sit with my thoughts and go to sleep."

'Absolutely petrified'

The theatre group's director had arranged for Harris to meet them at Heathrow Airport and later at a pub in Greenwich, south-east London.

Ms Lee said Harris called her over to his table, complimented her voice and asked her to sit on his lap. He then began to move his hand over her legs and eventually put it up her skirt.

She moved away to the pub's toilets but Harris followed her and assaulted her again, she said.

"I was absolutely petrified. I wanted to scream but I didn't. I knew what he'd done was wrong but I was embarrassed. I didn't want to tell anybody that he touched me. I thought people might say I'd done something."

Image copyright Metropolitan Police handout
Image caption Ms Lee, pictured in the 1980s, says the assault caused her depression

Ms Lee said she never told anyone of the assault "because I was never one to go to anybody and blurt out problems".

After her return to Australia, Ms Lee says she suffered from "bad moments of depression" for years. She also began drinking heavily and became anorexic and bulimic.

Paid interviews

Ms Lee said the assault "really changed my ability to believe people and trust people" and that "I did go to that length where I wanted to die".

She also said she later had difficulty bonding with her baby daughter because of "very, very bad flashbacks".

During the trial, Ms Lee faced criticism over her testimony, admitting she got the date of one of the alleged assaults wrong. She responded that she was "not a robot" with a head for dates but she had "no doubt" the assault had taken place.

She also faced prosecution claims that she had made up her story because she was motivated by money, after the court was told she had made a £33,000 deal with a Sydney publicity agent to give television and magazine interviews in Australia. She dismissed those claims.

"I don't wish evil on him because that's not good for me. I would like him to acknowledge it," she said.

"He took away from me that feeling that you can ever be normal again and that feeling that you're worthwhile and... that you deserve to be happy.

"To be at the age that I am now and to have lived through feeling like that all these years... I just feel so much sadness."

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