Miranda June's story

‘Was that all normal and I just reacted badly?’

This was the question Miranda asked herself for many years after her parents took her to see Dr Humphries in the 1980s. He was a medical specialist in Melbourne, who was treating girls who had issues with their growth and development.

On the first couple of visits the doctor examined her in a screened-off area of the office. Her mother was in the room, but could not see them during this examination.

‘This assessment involved me taking all my clothes off and lying down for a genital examination ... I was lying on the examination bed and Dr Humphries put his head between my legs to examine my genitals. I remember feeling distressed and very confused.

‘I clearly remember thinking that he could not possibly see anything – he was looking inside me – so what was he doing? He also used his hands to examine the inside of my genitals. I felt embarrassed, confused and distressed.’

Miranda could not understand how this examination had any relation to the issue she was sent to the doctor for. He also made her walk across the room naked to the scales, where he weighed and measured her.

‘I may have only been 10 years old, but I was very body conscious and felt very embarrassed and exposed. The confusion I felt was overwhelming. I remember telling myself that this must be okay, because he’s not only a doctor, but a specialist. Everyone trusts doctors.’

She assumed her mother knew what was happening, and ‘so it must be okay for him to do this. However I had an extremely strong feeling that this was very wrong and every inch of me dreaded and feared those appointments. I remember feeling very withdrawn following those appointments. I didn’t want to talk to anyone’.

Following the initial two visits Miranda’s mother advised her, in front of Dr Humphries, to ‘keep my undies on’. Dr Humphries suggested further treatment but her mother declined this, and this was Miranda’s last visit. Her mother later said that she first became concerned when seeing Miranda walk naked to the scales, and that Miranda had indicated she did not want to see him again – but not why.

‘I trusted my parents and whilst my instincts always told me that there was something very wrong with these examinations, I didn’t discuss it with my parents. The reason I never mentioned it to them was because I thought they were aware of what was happening and therefore that it was what was supposed to happen.’

As a young adult Miranda had ‘a subconscious feeling that intimacy was dirty and wrong’, a ‘discomfort with my own body and appearance’, and experienced pain during intercourse ‘which is believed to be psychological’.

Miranda had a fear of getting her legs waxed, as this entailed being partially undressed in front of a stranger, while lying down, and it reminded her of the examinations. She also avoided any gynaecological examinations because these triggered memories of the abuse.

In her early 20s her doctor asked her why she had never had a pap test. She disclosed what had happened during the examinations by Dr Humphries, asking whether what he had done was wrong. Her doctor did not answer, leading her to believe that the medical profession is inclined to ‘protect their own’.

‘I felt disappointed that she didn’t answer my question. At the time I felt it was a case of one doctor not wanting to criticise another. This would have been the perfect time for her to offer me a referral to a counsellor or psychologist. Maybe if I had received counselling at this time, it would not have affected me in the same way it has later in my life. After this response from my GP, I was disheartened and did not discuss it with anyone else for quite some time.’

Recently Miranda went for a gynaecological exam, and during this the nurse asked if she had ever been sexually assaulted. She still didn’t know whether what Dr Humphries did was abuse, despite finding it ‘horrifying’ at the time.

‘I burst into tears because I didn’t know how to answer that question. I eventually explained why I wasn’t sure and she was wonderful. She told me she would recommend to my doctor that I be given a mental health plan so that I could get some counselling.’

The first psychologist she saw did not seem very concerned about the impacts that the abuse had on her life. It took her a while to seek help again. She found an excellent sexual assault counsellor and understands that what Dr Humphries did was abuse. She also knows now that he did the same thing to other girls too.

Miranda wrote to the state’s healthcare commissioner about Dr Humphries, including a statement outlining her experiences. She wanted information about what ‘the rules’ were in the 1980s about examining children, and what they were now, to help her better understand what happened to her. This commissioner replied that it was ‘outside of his jurisdiction’, and advised her to contact another board which investigated GPs – even though Dr Humphries was a specialist. ‘I was quite disappointed in that ... So then I didn’t pursue it further.’

Eventually Miranda decided to tell her parents exactly what had gone on in Dr Humphries’ office. Although she was worried that they would blame themselves for the abuse, she needed to be sure exactly what her mother had known about it at the time. She learned that her parents had not consented to the things the doctor did to her.

‘My mum was able to confirm that she had no idea about what the examinations had involved ... My mum was upset at what I’d told her and my dad was very angry.’

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