Social commentator Bettina Arndt’s public support of perpetrators of sexual violence is harming more than just survivors, writes Kaye Maher.
The year was 1977 and I was a 14-year-old child living in Bendigo. That was the year my life came to a screeching halt through the ultimate betrayal of trust.
I had been sexually abused and, fearing pregnancy, I reached out for help. I wanted to end the living nightmare. I wanted to feel nurtured and safe. Once I disclosed what had occurred it seemed this would happen.
The prospect of pregnancy not only necessitated psychological support, but also medical care. This was arranged and I would see a doctor I’d never met before and he would learn the ghastly reason for my visit.
Thank goodness I was not pregnant. The doctor told me so. Maybe half an hour or an hour passed. Who knows? But this doctor then proceeded to sexually abuse me.
He said he needed to teach me how to have sex without getting pregnant.
This doctor did not reach out and show compassion, protection or anger at what had happened to me as a child. He instead used me for his own pleasure. He destroyed what shred of trust I had ever had in people, especially doctors.
How does a 14-year-old process such abuse by a ‘trusted medical professional’? It left me feeling confused, depressed, guilty and ultimately not wanting to live.
Why would I? The doctor’s crime against me as a child was like someone falling into a pool and reaching for the hand above the surface that they think will save them from drowning, only to find out the hand is pushing the person back under the water.
Trust no more. There is nothing left.
But I fought, and sometimes others took up my fight and the predatory doctor was eventually convicted and jailed for his crimes against me, and others.
The abuse I suffered is remarkably similar to the actions of one Canberra GP, Dr Geoffrey Davis. In fact, the Davis case was even used in an early court hearing regarding my abuser, to thwart a conviction because of a technicality around medical records.
It worked initially, but not later on, when medical records were located and others came forward making statements about further abuses by the Bendigo doctor.
Australia Day, 2020. I am now a 56-year-old woman. I learned via the media that Bettina Arndt has been awarded an Australia Day Honour. For years, I have cringed at the images and voice of Arndt, because she has expressed disturbing and disgusting opinions about the victimisation of sexual assault survivors.
In 1997, Arndt specifically referred to the case of Dr Geoffrey Davis, saying that he should not be charged for molesting multiple patients because in another context molestation is a “pleasurable and loving act”*.
Her article was titled ‘When saying sorry is enough’. Despite identifying as one of Dr Davis’ victims, Arndt has gone on to defend multiple paedophiles and sex offenders and minimised their actions, including those of Dr Davis.
What does that mean for other survivors of sexual assault?
It means not understanding why we struggle to experience loving and intimate relationships. It means despairing of a life wasted. For me, it also means not having the children I would have loved to have. It means having to explain why a pap smear continues to fill me with dread, and why this can only happen under anaesthetic.
As a 14-year-old child, the crime against me could never have been “seen in another context, as something loving and pleasurable”.
The perpetrator ‘saying sorry’ could never be enough. Who would ever suggest such a thing? Who, indeed, Bettina Arndt!
Ms Arndt, my name is Kaye Maher and I want to say this to you: It is offensive to me that you and your supporters minimise the crimes of perpetrators committed against survivors like me.
It is likewise offensive to read and hear that you and your supporters have actively blamed victims by saying they somehow seduced their perpetrator or dressed provocatively.
In fact, I sincerely believe you are letting men down by what seems to be you promoting the view that men cannot control themselves.
Men can do what is right. But when they don’t, we need to be able to call it out.
Indeed, that is an expectation I have of humankind.
*Ed’s note: Dr Geoffrey Davis admitted his crimes, however the charges against him were dropped due to the passage of time, and the fact he was no longer practising.
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