The lies and harms of Bettina Arndt – speech to the UNSW Women’s Collective “Counter Bettina Arndt Event”

Hi, my name is Dr Kate Johnson. I am a neurology registrar and a member of a 600 plus strong group of doctors, Doctor’s Against Violence Towards Women. I trained at Sydney University and I lived on campus from the years 2006-2009, where I was witness to the misogynist culture of university colleges. 

We live in difficult times. Just yesterday the government decided to launch an inquiry into the family court chaired by Pauline Hanson, based on the notion that men are victims of the system and that women lie. It doesn’t seem to matter to our leaders that the evidence shows that women rarely lie and that the family court frequently ignores children and puts them with abusive parents. It doesn’t matter to them that women and children will be retraumatised and triggered by this inquiry and that doubtless many will be actively harmed, if not killed, as they remain with abusive partners. Apparently, all you need to get a platform in this country are friends in the right places.

Similarly, Bettina Arndt has a platform to speak at the UNSW on the 24thof September at a seminar titled, “Is there really a sexual assault culture on university campuses?” Bettina has made a name for herself calling out fake rape culture and manipulative feminists and decrying the mistreatment of men. 

She is given a platform to spread these lies, despite the fact that the Human Right’s Commission survey of 30,000 students across 39 universities showed that an astounding 51% of students surveyed had been sexually harassed and 6.9% assaulted at least once in 2015 or 2016. It showed that women are twice as likely to be harassed and three times as likely to be assaulted and that men were overwhelmingly the perpetrators of sexual assault and harassment (even when the victims are men). This data is in keeping with 30years or more of research in Australia and around the world. Yet, Bettina Arndt is given a platform to spread lies, to suggest that men are the real victims of the system. 

Make no mistake. They are lies.

There is no debate here.

Attorney general Christian Porter said that Universities should be “enhancing free, open and civil public debate on campus.”

But these facts are not up for debate. Would you tell your doctor that you don’t want aspirin to prevent stroke because a quack told you the evidence was fake?

These so called debates cause so much harm. Victims already face so many barriers to reporting sexual assault. People underreport because the reporting process is retraumatizing and because the conviction rates are so low. Women don’t report because they think they will not be believed. When women suffer sexual assault, they don’t simply get up and get on with it. Victims of sexual assault are overrepresented in sufferers with depression, anxiety, PTSD and other mental illness. They self harm and attempt suicide more often. They also suffer more physical illnesses. Physiological evidence shows that trauma changes the brain and your epigenetics. 

Providing Bettina Arndt with a platform will undoubtedly exacerbate the issue. Victims at UNSW will be less inclined to report, thinking they will not be believed. The simple act of allowing the event to occur will be deeply triggering and distressing for many. Has the university considered this? Are they providing and promoting extra counseling because of the event? Or do they simply turn a blind eye because of the possible political fallout?  

I speak as a representative for many doctors. Doctors who meet victims in emergency departments, as general practitioners, as psychiatrists and in other specialties. Many shared their experiences with me. When we engage with our patients, we don’t just treat their disorder, we engage with their experience. Victims tell us of their experience with the police, the courts, the department of child protection, social services and other parts of the medical system. It is evident to all of us that the uncoordinated, shambolic system is skewed against victims. It retraumatises people and exacerbates intergenerational trauma, especially for first nations people, poc, LGBTQI and the disabled.  The system needs to be overhauled. There is a need for widespread investment in trauma informed training of personnel and the improvement of services. In this context, the idea that men are the victims of a system favoring lying, manipulative women beggars belief. 

Universities are not places where free speech and debate should flourish unquestioned. They are places where people should learn critical thinking skills. Bettina Arndt frequently appears to make up statistics (in a 2018 interview she said 0.8% of students complained of sexual assault in the previous year), cherry picks evidence to support her pre-existing views, misrepresents the meaning of her evidence and cites evidence with questionable methods. Any student intelligent enough to attend university should be capable of seeing through this if provided the right tools.

I saw a patient last year who at the age of 20 suffered intractable dissociative seizures and headaches. She suffered from complex PTSD as a result of sexual assault. She dreamt of becoming a film maker, but she is now dead by suicide. 

The harm of giving someone like Bettina Arndt a platform should not be underestimated. If the university does not cancel this event, we suggest that they provide and advertise additional supports for students who may be triggered by the event. We suggest that conservative attendees be presented with the evidence on sexual assault on campus, be offered training in critical analysis of evidence and listen to the testimony of victims. 

If you are a victim, we believe you. If you are made unwell as a result of this event, please seek support from loved ones and professionals. You are important, you are worthy and it isn’t your fault. Doctors stand with you in this fight against rape culture. We hear you and we believe you.