Ashleigh's story

Ash was born with a congenital abnormality which meant she was missing most of one leg. As a result, she was often treated as a medical curiosity and felt she was ‘part of a dehumanising system that latched on to disabled kids and turned us into things’.

From the age of 14 months, Ash’s mother took her to a medical prosthesis centre to have her prosthetic leg fitted. For routine check-ups, Ash would see a female prosthetist whom she described as ‘a real sweetheart’. But for more ‘significant’ fittings she would see Dr Hutchins, who was the head physician at the facility.

Dr Hutchins was always very charming and almost flirtatious with Ash’s mother, but Ash did not like him. He had a habit of pinching her nose, and from a young age Ash could not quite put her finger on what it was about him she hated so much.

‘By the time I was six I remember telling my mum that I hated the head doctor … but I didn’t have the words for why I hated this guy. I hated him. And I would come back to that in my head because I didn’t have anyone else I hated and I remember being fascinated by the level of my hatred.’

In order to examine Ash’s leg, Dr Hutchins would kneel down on the floor, blocking the view of Ash’s mother, and would travel his hands up Ash’s leg to her genitals and molest her.

‘Dr Hutchins would end up crouched on the floor in front of me with his hand up my skirt … and he would say “How’s it feel up here, Ash? How’s it feel up here?” I was a logical child and I started to realise that I didn’t know how to answer him. And I would stare at him and he would stare back with these horrible big eyes, so bulgy. And I knew there was a problem but I didn’t know what the problem was. But by time I was 13 I’d worked it out.’

Ash told the Commissioner that as a child born with a disability she was constantly ‘over-handled, over-questioned, paraded up and down in front of whom so ever, talked about over’ without any sensitivity. As a result she was never able to speak up about her discomfort around Dr Hutchins, and the abuse he continued to perpetrate whenever Ash saw him for a leg-fitting.

‘I’ve got this horrible memory of twice when I was quite young, maybe when I was round about that 12 to 13 kind of age group, of being in his office with the door locked and finding that really, really scary. And there was a guy with him and they were taking photos … standing there, holding up my skirt, showing my undies and all this …

‘Disturbingly, many decades later … I came across not my photos but photos of other kids in undies, prosthetic stumpy stumpy in a stump fetishist collection. And that was a really horrible memory. I just thought “we never got copies of them, where did they go?”’ Ash has no recollection of consent being obtained from either herself or her parents to have photos of this nature taken.

Dr Hutchins’ abuse continued regularly until Ash was 16 years old and had had enough.

‘By the time I was 16 I couldn’t take it anymore. And so (and I’ll never forget this day) Dr Hutchins walks into the room to check the latest thing with my leg or what have you. And my brother (whom I adore, I adored my brother) had been teaching karate and … to cut a long story short, when that horrible arm came reaching for my nose I couldn’t control myself, and I up and slammed him in that arm with this fist, not holding back, as hard as I could and I enjoyed every single second of it.

‘And I just fucking went at the guy! He jumped back, he was so startled. I hear my mother twittering on the side “Ashleigh! What are you doing?!” … I locked eyes with the doctor and I’m standing there because I’m ready to go again if he comes anywhere near me. And he actually goes “Oh well, excuse me” and you know what? I never saw him again.’

Ash did not disclose Dr Hutchins’ abuse until 10 years later, when her GP was concerned about her reluctance to have her prosthesis updated. She broke down in front of her doctor and explained ‘I find it really hard to face this guy’.

Her GP referred her to a different clinic which ‘restored my faith in management of prosthetic centres’. Ash also disclosed Dr Hutchins’ abuse to her new prosthetist, however to her knowledge neither the new prosthetist nor her GP ever took steps to have Dr Hutchins investigated.

‘I had this horrible mistrust and horror of medical people, doctors, hospitals, processes, X-ray machines, people in white coats with clipboards … the biggest bummer is a real mistrust of the profession. I have a decent GP but I only see him when I have to.’

Ash never disclosed the abuse to her mother but after speaking with the Commissioner feels she can. However she is concerned the impact of disclosing the abuse may cause her mother, who is now in her eighties, to feel guilty.

‘I chose not to have kids … I sort of think oh God I couldn’t sit there and watch that happen to a child of mine. I’m not saying that it would, but the horror of that.’

Ash has never sought compensation for her abuse but has received counselling since her early 20s, and believes this service is crucial for survivors coping with childhood trauma.

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