During a trip to the family dentist at the age of 12, Gabby was given gas and her mother was asked to wait outside the treatment room. The dental nurse also left the room and Gabby then felt discomfort in her genital area and was aware the male dentist was nowhere near her mouth. She believes the dentist sexually abused her while she was sedated with gas.
The incident occurred in the early 1980s and at the time, Gabby didn’t disclose to anyone what she thought had happened. She doesn’t believe she returned to that Sydney dental clinic and for many years she avoided seeing a dentist at all.
‘Later on when it came to me when I was a bit older, I screamed down the phone to my mum when she was overseas, “Where were you, Mum? Where were you?”, and she basically said, “We weren’t allowed to come into the room. You know, they kind of made us feel like they had it under control and we weren’t to come into the room”.’
A second incident occurred when Gabby was 17 or 18. She went to see a doctor for treatment for an ear infection and the doctor asked her to remove her dress. When she refused, the doctor agreed that she could instead roll the straps of her dress down over her shoulders.
As a consequence of her experiences, Gabby avoided appointments with dentists and doctors for herself as well as her children.
‘I kept trying to go to male dentists’, she said. ‘It hit me again when I started to shop around for female dentists when I had my children. It hit me really, really hard that I couldn’t bring them to a male doctor … Once my daughter needed to have gasses and things like that, I started to have nervous breakdowns … I started to see a pattern of just feeling like I couldn’t look after them, I couldn’t protect them from things they needed to be protected from, and I started taking people with me. I’d take my mother-in-law with me, I’d take my mum …
‘Then I just started to feel like I was a failure as a mum because I thought, how come I can’t do this by myself? And my husband was taking time off work to do it and then I’d make him take them and eventually I just started doing all of this avoidance. Every bit of avoidance I could come up with.’
Gabby stated that she’d had treatment by mental health professionals for many years and had self-harmed and had suicidal thoughts. Clinicians had asked her whether it hadn’t been her father or brother who’d sexually abused her as they didn’t think the events she described could have resulted in such significant impact.
‘You keep thinking to yourself, this is so ridiculous having to go back on this and it’s a past that I really shouldn’t be raising all of the time, but it’s awful when it comes into your future and there’s nothing that you can do to make amends and so I had to find a comfortable place for it for my children.’
She told the Commissioner that she’d never made reports to NSW Police but thought she may have once written a letter to the Australian Medical Association about the doctor. She thought it essential that any child receiving treatment be accompanied by an adult.
‘You’ve got to come to terms with that word closure, ‘cause everyone wants to use it so it diminishes your story. You just go, for God’s sake, I can’t, I won’t be able to tell my story if I can’t listen to the people that say to me, “Oh, you’ve got closure, haven’t you?” You know, sure. That’s a toughie. There’s just the ways that, like I have to bring it into my children’s life in a way that’s far more positive than the way that I’ve been dealing with it in the past.’