What do you get when you put a vulnerable child, a practiced pedophile, network cover-ups, and an indifferent mother into a setting of television show fame in an era where people kept their mouths shut – you get Allegedly, the poignant yet brutally honest hard hitting revelatory autobiography by Sarah Monahan, one of the child stars sexually abused in the now defunct but once popular TV series Hey Dad!
Sarah Monahan is no sensationalist seeking media headlines. Instead, her reluctant but emotionally grueling experience is written in a brutally frank tone. She does not blame or explain, but tells her story as a sickly young child who is unwittingly thrust into the world of a burgeoning television sitcom from 1987 to 1994 by a mother who is portrayed as remote and resentful of her child’s fame.
Sarah has the role of Jenny the youngest child of the main protagonist, Martin Kelly (played by Robert Hughes), a busy working widower who is portrayed as an architect who is juggling both family and career.
It all seems to be very benign on the surface, hardworking dad, happy kids and a busy secretary filling in the gaps as caring female, but beneath the surface lies a more sinister theme – that of the predatory male. Robert Hughes, the avuncular father figure is known backstage by his crew as a bit of a perv, who likes to rub up against women and flash his penis when given the opportunity. But because he is the star, and because it is an uncomfortable and awkward situation, it is left largely unaddressed. There are muttered accusations in the makeup room and wardrobe. Women resist the job of knocking on his trailer door as he would greet them with an erect penis.
Sarah is matter of fact in her tone. She is accused of being cold and unemotional by her mother, and in fact, she does seem remote in her account – almost as if she is distancing herself from the events by remaining cold and factual, however at times the reader can sense her rage, her bewilderment and her impotence as a small child being thrust into the path of a manipulative child molester, and not being listened to or believed.
The beginning of the abuse is subtle. Sarah’s beloved and protective father dies suddenly, and Robert Hughes begins his diabolical grooming assault. As a small child, Sarah is aware that sitting on his knee (part of her role as a dutiful child) was becoming problematic. Unable to put into words what she could not understand as a child, she attempted to distance herself from him, but he always made ways to find her alone. Although penetration did not take place, he found opportunities to flash his penis at her – once when she was colouring in alone backstage, he stood over her with his penis out. As other times, he would take any opportunity to rub up against her. Although other cast and crew were aware of this, some even addressing the producer, nothing was done about it. After all, Hughes was the star.
Sarah was tutored on the set — in fact, a type of parallel world existed there – she was discouraged from having her own hobbies and pursuits, and isolation and maternal indifference closed her down. Her only allies were some of her co-stars and crew who knew what a monster Hughes was and attempted to keep her away from him. The wardrobe room was one of the only places where she felt safe. When she told her mother, she was advised to just stay out of his way. Of course, the mother would not have wanted her meal ticket jeopardised.
Sarah eventually leaves the show as a young adult, a closed down, damaged child who flees the country which should have protected her, and goes to live in the United States. In the years that follow, she manages to shut down the memories and more or less get on with her life, but in reading of the sexual abuse of another child star, the rage burns again and this time it won’t be shut down.
The following years of media interviews, accusations and trips between the two countries almost break Sarah emotionally. It is only the revelation following hers to the media and subsequently the police that other young girls were also molested by Hughes that she feels vindicated. But there is a price to pay, she is dragged through the courts, social media and the media. She is verbally abused, maligned and threatened. She is completely abandoned by her mother, and she finds out whom her friends and her allies are – and also her enemies.
Robert Hughes, after a lengthy trial was finally imprisoned in 2014. Sarah Monahan is a brave and articulate young woman who discusses the cost physically and emotionally of ‘coming out’ about her abuse. We are exposed first hand to the frustration of dealing with lying and indifferent witnesses, delays, suppression orders and not having the chance to tell your side of the story. We are taken behind the scenes of a seemingly harmless Australian sitcom to see a small vulnerable child being groomed and abused by an evil predator.
Sarah has written a brave, factual, in-depth account of how it feels to be abandoned and to have no voice, whilst appearing to be part of an onscreen happy family. This book is very readable – it is honest, it is harrowing and it is real. Sarah Monahan is not asking for sympathy; she is just telling her story so that others might be aware of what dangers can lie behind the seeming innocence of a television sitcom. Recent disclosures of sexual abuse with other children perpetrated by other television stars and entertainers have also hit the headlines recently. These horrific behind the scenes monsters who prey upon children under the guise of producing a benign television series are being exposed. One can only hope that lessons have been learned, but the cynic in me says I don’t think so.
Allegedly by Sarah Monahan is available from Dymocks.