Senior surgeon Gabrielle McMullin stands by advice for female doctors to stay silent on sex abuse
March 7, 2015
“I am so frustrated with what is going on.”: Dr Gabrielle McMullin. Photo: http://www.leadershipforwomen.com.au
A senior surgeon has fired back at criticism that she’s offering “appalling” advice to young surgical trainees by suggesting they’re better off staying silent if they’re sexually assaulted by a colleague.
Dr Gabrielle McMullin, a Sydney vascular surgeon, said sexism is so rife among surgeons in Australia that young women in the field should probably just accept unwanted sexual advances because coming forward could ruin their careers.
The comments, made in an ABC radio interview after she helped launch a book about gender equality at Parliament House in Sydney on Friday night, triggered angry reactions from sex abuse and domestic violence campaigners.
“It’s a sad indictment on us and the community when this is what women are being advised to do to benefit their career,” said Domestic Violence Victoria chief executive Fiona McCormack.
Centre Against Sexual Assault Victorian spokeswoman Carolyn Worth called the advice “appalling” and “irresponsible” because perpetrators thrive on not being challenged about their behaviour.
“I would have thought highly trained professionals would be able to operate a better system than that,” she said. “I actually don’t think that’s acceptable advice in this day and age.”
But Dr McMullin stood by her comments on Saturday, saying it was pragmatic advice which exposed the ugly reality of rampant sexism in male-dominated profession.
“I am so frustrated with what is going on that I really didn’t care, didn’t think what the reaction would be,” she said.
“All the phone calls that I have received since are from women saying, ‘Yes, thank you’. It’s been hidden and suppressed for so long and it’s only when it comes out in the open that you can do something about it. So, I guess this is my attempt to air it.”
Dr McMullin referred to the case of Dr Caroline Tan, who won a 2008 sexual harassment case against a surgeon while she was completing surgical training at a Melbourne hospital. Dr Tan was vilified and has been unable to find work at any public hospital in Australasia despite the legal victory, she said.
“Her career was ruined by this one guy asking for sex on this night. And, realistically, she would have been much better to have given him a blow job on that night,” Dr McMullin said in the criticised ABC interview.
“What I tell my trainees is that, if you are approached for sex, probably the safest thing to do in terms of your career is to comply with the request; the worst thing you can possibly do is to complain to the supervising body because then, as in Caroline’s position, you can be sure that you will never be appointed to a major public hospital.”
When asked about those comments, Dr McMullin said: “Unfortunately, that’s true.”
She said new laws were needed to reward women for reporting sexual harassment rather than the current system of cash payouts and moral victories.
“My main advice would be do not put yourself in that situation, treat everybody as a potential attacker, and that’s a terrible thing to have to do,” she said.
Australian Medical Association Victoria president Dr Tony Bartone said he strongly disagreed with Dr McMullin’s advice to young women.
“This old view of acceptance needs to be eradicated,” he said.
“Sexual assault is a crime and will not be tolerated by our society. The medical profession is not exempt from this maxim.”
He said all public hospitals had procedures in place to allow employees to safely report everything from bullying to sexual assault. “There should not be negative consequences for reporting.”
The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons released a brief statement saying there were strict measures in place to deal with harassment and abuse of any kind.
“The College actively encourages Trainees and Fellows to come forward in confidence with any such allegations, which will be thoroughly investigated,” a spokesman said.