Whitney grew up in Melbourne in the 1960s, the eldest in a large family. She was born with a vision impairment which got progressively worse, and at the age of 10 she was admitted to hospital for tests and treatment.
The doctor wanted to take some photos of her eyes. A nurse took her to another area of the hospital but then had to leave, so Whitney was left alone in the room with the male doctor and photographer.
The doctor told Whitney to take her clothes off so they could photograph her body ‘for teaching purposes’. She was in early puberty and didn’t feel comfortable but she did what she was told. She said that was how things were in those days. Another man then came into the room.
‘While they were doing the nude photos, he seemed to be watching out of this corner window … so that added to my discomfort, because he wasn’t the photographer and he wasn’t the doctor. He was just this third guy.'
‘The clear instruction I remember, they wanted me to do like a full front spreadeagle, you know, with my legs slightly apart and my arms out so that they could see all the pubic areas … It felt wrong. I remember, even as I was undressing, thinking “This isn’t right, but what do I do?”’
Whitney said he wasn’t one of her regular doctors but, as it was a teaching hospital, there were often groups of young interns going through. When she got her hospital file years later through freedom of information, there was no mention of the photos nor of the doctor, and no signed release from her parents.
She spoke to her mother about the incident many years later, and her mother said the doctor had shown her the proofs and she thought there was nothing wrong with the photos.
‘And that was also symptomatic of that day and age where people thought doctors were like God, you know, they just trusted them totally.’
In the early 70s Whitney was admitted to hospital again with further symptoms. She was kept in for a number of days in a girls-only ward. One morning she was on her own while the nurses were bathing the other girls, when a male janitor came in and assaulted her. She screamed and the janitor ran off. A nurse came in and found her crying, so she told her what had happened.
‘There was no acknowledgement of it. I didn’t get any counselling or anything. And the next thing I knew my mum came and she made some implication that, because I didn’t have underpants on, I still had the hospital gown on … I brought it on myself, basically.’
Years later, when Whitney and her mother spoke about both the janitor and the incident with the photographs, Whitney’s mother told her the janitor had been taken off the children’s wards.
‘So no charges were laid, and my parents were obviously satisfied with that because they didn’t want the shame, which is paradoxical guilt, of course, it’s nonsense, but it’s very real.’
Whitney said she felt guilty, defiled and violated by the incidents and it has taken a long time to shake those feelings off. She had problems with her weight and, especially as a young adult, struggled with relationships and feeling comfortable as a sexual being.
Over the years she has talked about the events with trusted friends and counsellors and found them very supportive. She has not pursued either matter through the police, partly because she feels she doesn’t have enough information to give them – no names, nothing in her records. But there are other reasons, too.
‘When I’ve shared it with friends, they’ve often said “Well, why don’t you press charges because they could be doing the same thing to other people?” Yes, I suppose there’s a point there. I guess I’ve heard horror stories of people that have tried to press charges and all sorts of innuendo and suggestions made.
‘I’m a practising Christian now and I believe strongly in forgiveness. That doesn’t mean what they did is any less serious, but I’m taking the stance of forgiving and not letting the bitterness and the revenge eat me up.’