Vaccination as “rape”: Meryl Dorey and the Australian Vaccination Network

The Australian anti-Vaccination Network (AVN) in Australia has not been having a good time of late.

First, they were smacked down by the Health Care Complaints Commission. Following a 12 month investigation into the information provided on the AVN’s website, the HCCC issued a public warning stating the AVN “pose(s) a risk to public health and safety”.

The AVN was then investigated by the charity watchdog in New South Wales, the OLGR (yes you are not alone in thinking “why the hell are they a charity?”) which found that the AVN had “…breached charitable fundraising laws and potentially misled the public”. This was largely as a result of their collecting funds for one purpose and then spending the money elsewhere –  something you’re not allowed to do as a charity.

For example, in 2008 the AVN collected $11,810 for a “Fighting Fund”, an appeal set-up to raise money to support a family allegedly on the run from a court order to immunize a child. But the OLGR reported none of the funds raised were spent on this cause.

In addition, in March 2009 the AVN was seeking funds to run a Generation Rescue autism ad in the Australian press and raised $11,910 for the cause. The ad was never run – perhaps because they were gazumped by the Australian Skeptics and were subsequently knocked back by a parents’ publication – and likewise the money was spent elsewhere.

For many years the AVN was asking for funds to place its literature into Bounty Bags – the information packs for new mums – and to have vaccines independently tested for toxins and heavy metals. The money was collected, but the makers of Bounty Bags claimed they never had an agreement with the AVN. And the vaccine testing? Well, that never went ahead either.

In an e-newsletter, Meryl Dorey described the OLGR’s initial findings as;

“…from the very minor such as the fact that our collection box was the wrong size and didn’t have a lock and our receipt books were not numbered or kept in an assets register….”

Umm, methinks you have to do much more than have the wrong size cash box to lose your charity license.

But even more incredible is that the AVN operated for approximately 2 years without a valid charity license. Of this breach, Dorey explained:

“For 1 year, we were unable to find an auditor …. We finally found a firm who performed our audit but … since we were paying them a discounted rate, we were not really in a position to rush them along.”

The end result was the AVN’s authority to fundraise was revoked on October 20, 2010 meaning it can no longer conduct public fundraising appeals. Rather it can only ask existing members (of which it claims to have 2500) for money. This outcome is a savage blow for the AVN financially.

Indeed, even before its ability to publicly fundraise was revoked, auditors examining the financial report for the year ending December 31, 2009 stated “there is an inherent uncertainty whether the association will be able to continue as a going concern, without the ability to continue to generate external funding from donations and sponsorships.”

This on the back of the financial statement for December 31, 2008 where the AVN posted a loss of A$58,696.65. In fact, the AVN have been haemorrhaging money in the last few years. Just 12 months earlier (year ending December 2007) they posted a profit of A$88,007.97, meaning in the space of 2 years, they lost A$146,704.62.

As is its right, the AVN has appealed the loss of their charity license, and a hearing was set for Feb 14th 2011, but this has been postponed so the AVN can “re-frame their case” (whatever that means). Although its media spokesperson and sometimes president Meryl Dorey claims the audit conducted by the OLGR “…found no evidence of fraud in the breaches they discovered in our operations – (just) breaches of a purely administrational nature” the case has been referred higher up the bureaucratic chain to the Department of Justice (DoJ) and the Attorney General’s Department and to the Crown Solicitor. This is because the AVN is now being investigated for breaches of the Charitable Fundraising Act and if found guilty, these incur fines totaling $25,000 and 12 months jail. The findings of these departments are expected to be handed down any day.

So it appears that the “wrong size cash box” or “breaches of a purely administrational nature” may amount to much more than just loss of its charity license. Referral to the DoJ and Crown Solicitor are serious matters indeed.

And it seems the stress is beginning to show on Meryl Dorey. Let’s go back to January, when a family court matter in NSW was successful in getting the child of divorced parents vaccinated – Mom didn’t want the child vaccinated, but Dad did.

According to an article in the Sun Herald newspaper, the father said that if the girl remained unvaccinated, she would be forced to withdraw from school during outbreaks of some diseases, and that she would also be unable to spend time with any new babies he had, given she was not immunized against whooping cough.

The mother produced opposing evidence that the vaccinations were unnecessary, but was criticized in the judgment for submitting evidence from an “immunization skeptic”, who made what the magistrate described as “outlandish statements unsupported by any empirical evidence”.

Meryl Dorey naturally wasn’t happy about this (it is unknown if she was the “immunization skeptic”) and made it clear in a most distasteful post on the AVN Facebook page, where she said this after a link to the story:

“Court orders rape of a child. Think this is an exaggeration? Think again. This is assault without consent and with full penetration too.”

Rape of a child is akin to vaccination? Wow. I don’t think anyone who has been subject to this type of sexual assault would agree with you Meryl. And as the post was discussed, it turned out that indeed, a few people did not agree with Meryl’s assessment of the situation.

Another administrator of the AVN page, “SB” said:

“I disagree with the rape analogy, but the forcible administration of a vaccine? Vaccines are not compulsory – yet.”

And then another:

“I disagree with the rape analogy too.”

Dorey responded further down the thread justifying her use of the term rape:

“Guys, I apologize if anyone was offended with the rape analogy. I take the issue of rape VERY seriously as two very close family members were raped…”

She then made a non-apology further on, where she redefined the meaning of the term rape:

“I know that the word does tend to mainly have sexual connotations nowadays, but historically, rape has meant so much more. And as I said, rape is not a crime of sex – it is a crime of violence, control and anger/hatred.

“It is an act of violence that demonstrates power over someone … who cannot defend themselves and to my mind – forcing a child to be vaccinated against the informed consent of his or her parent is exactly that – an act of violence by someone who is more powerful against someone who is less powerful.”

Not according to my dictionary.

From Dictionary dot com:

– noun
; 1. the unlawful compelling of a woman through physical force or duress to have sexual intercourse;
 2. any act of sexual intercourse that is forced upon a person; 
3. statutory rape: 
4. an act of plunder, violent seizure, or abuse; despoliation; violation: the rape of the countryside; 5. Archaic: the act of seizing and carrying off by force.

The Apple OSX dictionary defines it as:

Noun: the crime, committed by a man, of forcing another person to have sexual intercourse with him without their consent and against their will, esp. by the threat or use of violence against them; figurative – the wanton destruction or spoiling of a place or area : the rape of the Russian countryside.

Violence may be involved in sexual assault, but rape is not so without sexual assault. And if she meant an act of violence, “wanton destruction” or the archaic definition, then why did she include the phrase “with full penetration”?

So here comes Meryl’s non-apology:

“To anyone who was insulted or hurt by my comparing the forced vaccination of a child against the custodial parent’s wishes with rape, I do apologise wholeheartedly and without reservation. I looked up the definition of rape prior to posting … that comparison and in the dictionary sense of the word, it is accurate…”

See above.

Sorry Meryl, but redefining the meaning of the word rape and saying it’s okay because you know two people who were raped does not make it acceptable.

The discussion went on for 3 days and reached 57 comments before the topic dropped off the front page and people, including Meryl probably, thought it would all go away. But even one of her admins was astute enough to notice that everything on the internet stays forever and “someone somewhere will be keeping a scrapbook”.

Well, she was right. The rape comments fell into the hands of Tracey Spicer, the same journalist who hung up on Meryl Dorey on live radio just a few weeks earlier when she was discussing British Medical Journal’s fraud findings into Andrew Wakefield’s Lancet paper.

On air, Tracey discussed Dorey’s comments with Hettie Johnstone, an Australian child abuse campaigner who runs a child protection organisation called Bravehearts. Naturally, Hettie was appalled that someone would compare an injection for the purposes of protection against communicable disease with rape.

As expected, Dorey was livid and asked her followers to bombard the radio station with disapproving emails. She also asserted that she had apologized (well, kinda) and that it was a heat-of-the-moment comment. Me, well I’m skeptical this is the case. According to her defense above, she bothered to look up the definition of rape in the dictionary before she posted it:

“I looked up the definition of rape prior to posting …that comparison and in the dictionary sense of the word, it is accurate…”

In addition, she posted similar comments to her mailing list:

“This is immoral. It should be illegal. This is medical rape. Since it is illegal to force yourself on someone for the sake of having sex, why is it not illegal for society to force itself on an innocent child whose informed parent has chosen not to subject them to a potentially dangerous medical procedure?”

Posting her rape comments in two places and looking up a definition in the dictionary prior to doing so constitutes more than a ‘heat-of-the-moment’ outburst to me.

In directing her supporters to spam the radio station with emails, Dorey attempted to project the publicity away from herself and towards the “rights of pro-choice parents”. But this issue was not about parents who choose not to vaccinate. It was about the media spokesperson (sometimes president) for “Australia’s Vaccine Watchdog” comparing vaccination to rape, which is not only offensive and distasteful, but completely inappropriate.

Even one of the commenters on Facebook pointed this out:

“On another note had you not made such a crude comparison which upset so many people this attention may not have happened. You made us all look bad on this one.”

Eighteen months ago it was a different landscape in the Australian media for the AVN. Meryl Dorey was the go-to person for comment whenever there was a story on vaccination. She would sit alongside professors of immunology and epidemiology and Gish Gallop her way through debates. She was all over morning television – of which the target audience is stay-at-home mums – spouting nonsense about vaccine safety and efficacy. She was given a forum to spread her fear and misinformation far and wide.

Not any more. The worm has turned and the false balance is shifting. She is finally being treated in a manner which she deserves – relegated to the pages of natural health media and websites rife with conspiracy theories and quackery. But importantly, she is finally being held accountable for her nonsense, not just by skeptics but by the mainstream media and government departments too. And with opinions like “vaccination = rape” , it’s about time.

Rachael A. Dunlop BSc (Hons), PhD., is a skeptic and blogger, as well as the winner of Twitter Shorty Award for Health 2010

Rachael came to science after a career in graphic design and advertising because she was “bored and needed and challenge”. She got what she wanted. Her research focuses on ageing disorders including heart and Parkinson’s disease. She is particularly interested in how cells respond to damaged proteins especially those which undergo suicide – a process known as apoptosis. Her current project examines the role of blue green algae in motor neurone disease.

Rachael is a reporter on the Skeptic Zone Podcast and a Vice President of the NSW committee of Australian Skeptics. She is also part of the Mystery Investigators show for schools and co-organises the Sydney Skeptics meet-up group, and contributes to The Sceptics’ Book of Pooh-Pooh blog. Rachael has a passion for combining her knowledge of art and science through scientific communication.

Posted in: Vaccines

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34 thoughts on “Vaccination as “rape”: Meryl Dorey and the Australian Vaccination Network

  1. Draal says:

    I have an issue with your logic.
    First and foremost, the definition of a word is dependent on whether both the speaker and the intended audience have the same understanding of the meaning of any particular word. For instance, the jargon I use with a co-worker is appropriate since they work in the same line of work as I do. Secondly, words have multiple meanings that evolve over time. The word ‘rape’ can mean a mustard-like herb or ‘rope’, depending on the context. Thirdly, all dictionaries are not created equal. Some are better sources of information than others. and Apple’s OSX dictionary are not nearly as authoritative as say the OED or Merriam-Webster’s dictionary. For instance, Merriam-Webster’s has an entry on ‘rape’ as:
    1. an act or instance of robbing or despoiling or carrying away a person by force
    2. unlawful sexual activity and usually sexual intercourse carried out forcibly or under threat of injury against the will usually of a female or with a person who is beneath a certain age or incapable of valid consent — compare sexual assault, statutory rape
    3. an outrageous violation

    Based on this, the use of the rape in the following sentence, “Court orders rape of a child.” Is indeed correctly used if you were to replace the word ‘rape’ with ‘outrageous violation’.

  2. DevoutCatalyst says:

    to violate (third-person singular simple present violates, present participle violating, simple past and past participle violated)

    1.To break, disregard, disagree or not act according to (rules, conventions, etc.).

    2. To rape

  3. Eric the baker says:

    I disagree with the previous commenter. If Meryl meant to use the sense of the word meaning: ‘outrageous violation’, or the archaic sense of ‘the act of seizing and carrying off by force’, it makes no sense for her to follow up with the defense that she used. In her defense, she specifically said, “I take the issue of rape VERY seriously as two very close family members were raped…”

    If her intended meaning was either of those two, that reference and defense doesn’t follow. I could be wrong, perhaps two close family members were carried away by Zeus in a fit of sexual passion, but somehow I doubt that.

  4. DVMKurmes says:

    Oh come on Draal-If you want to pick on logic, don’t cherry pick the statement. Dorey makes it clear in the next two sentences exactly what she meant;

    “Court orders rape of a child. Think this is an exaggeration? Think again. This is assault without consent and with full penetration too.”

  5. Th1Th2 says:

    I’ve been saying this all the time.

    Vaccination = minor sexual harassment
    Natural infection = rape

    However, if the naive child is given live vaccines, then that will constitute rape like exposing the same child to natural infection.

  6. Chris says:

    Please ignore Th1Th2. This person has a warped view on reality:

    Why should I let the child walk on the dirt when there is a dry concrete pavement next to it? A toddler would readily know which is the safe path to take even without the knowledge of C. tetani, but I am just fascinated how parents are offering very poor choices (or lack thereof).

  7. Draal says:

    “If you want to pick on logic”
    I find it more interesting to pick on the logic, instead of just agreeing with Dr. Dunlop’s overall conclusions (which I do). If her logic is made more sound, then her argument is improved. What’s wrong with that?

    “Court orders [outrageous violation] of a child. Think this is an exaggeration? Think again. This is assault without consent and with full penetration too.”
    ‘Assault without consent’ is apt since a child cannot legally consent. Penetration is referring to a needle being inserted into the skin since it is in context of vaccination. And Dorey is also likely using the term penetration to allude to the sexual act to emphasize her statement. I’m not saying it was not in poor taste, or just down right vulgar because it was.

    My point is that I do not agree with the basing an analysis of someone’s statements because their definitions do not agree with yours. e.g. “Not according to my dictionary.” The use of crappy dictionary sources like and Apple’s OSX to take apart someone’s argument is just weak sauce. Use an authoritative dictionary like OED.

  8. Enkidu says:

    I see the word rape being thrown around all over the parenting forums: “needle rape” for vaccinations, “birth rape” for women who did not get their desired birth experience, even “penile rape” to describe infant circumcision. I can imagine it extremely offensive to people who have actually been raped. Its overuse cheapens the term, which describes a very horrific crime.

  9. Robin says:

    Her argument would make more sense if she just used the term “assault”. It seems to be the Australian legal equivalent to “battery” in the US, which is non-consensual physical contact.

    Whether or not a court ordered non-consensual vaccination is an assault/battery is an interesting legal question in and of itself; the “rape” hyperbole is unnecessary as vaccination is obviously not sexual.

  10. Jan Willem Nienhuys says:

    The use of dictionaries in discussions like this is a dubious activity. Makers of dictionaries try to describe common usage as well as they can. If they are not really experts they can make mistakes. They often miss shades of meaning and usage too, because otherwise the book would become too big. Moreover, especially for words like these, their meaning is often clear enough and people know exactly what is meant.

    I agree with anybody who objects to equating various acts to rape if they are clearly not a matter of forced sex. This includes silly Sandra Harding who called the Principia of Newton a rape manual and anybody else like Meryl Dorey. Rape is a serious crime (strangely enough not mentioned in the Ten Commandments…). It is useless to argue with these lunatics on the basis of dictionaries. If they need to look up these words in a dictionary before using them, they must be declared non compos mentis.

  11. JJ from Cowtown says:

    Draal – ” ‘Assault without consent’ is apt since a child cannot legally consent.”

    And, being fair, we apply this logic equally to everything that happens to a child before the age of majority, right?

  12. Draal says:

    JJ, that’s a slippery slope argument. ‘Legally consent’ was in context to the court matters. It was not meant to be applicable in any other context.

  13. Nikola says:

    I was going to post something similar, acknowledging that Dorey isn’t necessarily “redefining” the word rape if she meant something other than sexual assault.
    While I sincerely doubt she didn’t mean *sexual* rape initially (because she’s a monster), she weaseled out of that one without breaking a dictionary.
    Let’s not all get tribal and attack Draal&Co for pointing out what they think is a flaw in this otherwise undoubtedly excellent post.
    We’re skeptics, we’re among friends and we can discuss without getting defensive and incoherent.

  14. Draal says:

    Well put Nikola.

  15. nybgrus says:

    I agree. We can all learn from others and nobody is perfect, even when the overall work is something we can agree on. Draal’s nitpick is something I consider a compliment. When the student’s in my tutorial sessions send me emails or ask questions in class that nitpick my answer and force me to really think carefully about what I am teaching they feel uncomfortable and unsure – they think they are insulting me by questioning my authority, especially in light of the greater context where almost all of what I have been saying was correct. I take it as a compliment – that they were listening closely enough to be able to spot the mistake that I (we ALL) inevitably make. Having an audience that uncritically listens to you drone on is boring and why I didn’t become a priest ;-)

    Besides, when I get nitpicked like that I learn something new and I learn old stuff even better because I really need to come up with a GOOD and thorough answer to the nitpick. In this case, I would say that it offers Dr. Dunlop an opportunity to further refine her writing style and think about ways which may be more effective for the future.

  16. ConspicuousCarl says:

    Th1Th2 on 19 Feb 2011 at 12:42 pm

    I’ve been saying this all the time.

    Vaccination = minor sexual harassment
    Natural infection = rape

    However, if the naive child is given live vaccines, then that will constitute rape like exposing the same child to natural infection.

    Well now we know what Th1Th2 thinks about not in the mood for cubist interpretations of medicine.

    Hedley Lamarr: Qualifications?
    Th1Th2: Rape, infection, vaccination, and rape.
    Hedley Lamarr: You said rape twice.
    Th1Th2: I like rape.

  17. Ilijas says:

    The discussion on the semantics of the word “rape” is redundant.

    The entire point of that section of the post was the inappropriate language used in a vitriolic opposition to a court’s decision regarding a child’s vaccination.

    Even if Meryl Dorey had used the word “assault” it would still have been over the top. That’s the point.

    Meryl’s strident incendiary sermonising against vaccines is a concern in Australia as she had had a huge presence in the media on the subject of vaccinations, and has also been a major contributor to a drop in vaccination rates, most notably in her local region.


  18. reasonablehank says:

    Excellent post Dr Dunlop. Thank you. It exemplifies perfectly how Meryl Dorey makes the most outrageous claims yet never accepts responsibility for her actions. If Meryl Dorey ever started admitting her wrongness, then, there would be no more AVN. The organisation is built on deceit, from its premise to its administration.

  19. @Enkidnu, I think we need something akin to Godwin’s Law for rape analogies.

    It’s not very skeptical of me, but I have to admit that when someone making an argument resorts to mislabeling something as rape, I stop listening. It doesn’t negate their entire argument, but at that point that particular person has surrendered credibility, IMO.

  20. ConspicuousCarl says:

    Anthropologist Undergroundon 20 Feb 2011 at 10:10 am

    @Enkidnu, I think we need something akin to Godwin’s Law for rape analogies.

    Yeah, well you know who else liked to make laws? The NAZIS!

    Also, something about terrorism.

  21. JJ from Cowtown says:

    Draal – ” ‘Legally consent’ was in context to the court matters. It was not meant to be applicable in any other context.”

    I disagree but my disagreement is based on a slightly different interpretation here.

    The child cannot legally consent, only the parent. One parent consented, the other did not. This was legally challenged. The parent that consented won. After all is said and done consent exists. So I would argue it isn’t in the context of the court matters.

    Another context that remains is the broader ‘no child can consent to a vaccine.’ I suspect (again, based on my own interpretation, biases, etc.) that this was an intentional usage as it certainly fits with their narrative.

  22. Draal says:

    JJ, I’ve been playing Devil’s Advocate to highlight that there are different interpretations of what Dorey said. I did so because I was accused of cherry picking. I think Dorey was taking the view of the child (or perhaps the mother) when she said ‘assault without consent’, and that’s was my interpretation when I said ‘is apt since a child cannot legally consent’. You now correctly pointed out that it was the father who brought the challenge to give the legal consent for vaccination. But using the slippery slope logical fallacy against me was counterproductive as I dismissed it right off the bat. Admittedly, I was wrong in saying it was ‘apt’ since I misinterpreted who the court was ruling for/against but I don’t think it negates my interpretation of what Dorey was trying to say. Just to reiterate, I don’t support Dorey in anyway. I see now that Dorey was making a logical fallacy because she based her statement on a false premise that the court was ruling against the case presented, as you pointed out.
    Ultimately, interpreting the meaning or definitions of what someone saying is tricky and likely more often than not, counterproductive, or just pointless. Rather, I like having the flaws in logic pointed out. I post at SBM as more of an exercise for me to hone my ability to argue and spot logical fallacies. It’s a work in progress as you can see.

  23. DVMKurmes says:

    I still think that Dorey’s initial meaning was pretty clear, not only the “full penetration” remark, but then talking about her relatives that were victims of rape. If that is true, then she really should be more careful. Giving credence to her later backpedaling after people took offense and took her to task is probably giving her more credit than she deserves. In the end, Dorey was pretty explicit, and if she really meant something different, which is doubtful, it does not matter, the damage was already done-fortunately mostly to herself. I can see a lot of logical errors on Dorey’s part, but not so much on Rachael’s, which is what your initial post implied.

  24. hippiehunter says:

    This is Meryl Dorey showing what sort of creature she really is.
    I live near this lying vile creature and have young children whom she puts at risk with her grandiose bullshit.

    This is not an academic exercise for me this woman is a direct threat to my children

  25. Barbara.Anne.Mays says:

    While Ms Dorey’s comments likening immunisation to rape “with full penetration” are hideous, there are other more important issues brought to light by Dr Dunlop’s article.

    To my mind, we live in a wonderful part of the world where infectious diseases are largely unknown, and that is largely due to the outstanding successes of vaccines.

    Take away vaccines, and we set society back hundreds of years, to where 4 out of 5 babies died before they reached the age of 5. This is what Ms Dorey is trying to do, with her misguided use of bizarre claims and hyperbole.

    It’s a good thing that the Australian media have at last woken up to her, and the sooner the liquidators move in the better off we will all be.

  26. Dave Farmer says:

    What sort of human being makes this analogy? The judge heard all the arguments and based his/her decision on the best science available in the best interests of the child. Ms Dorey then denigrates the Court with the wierdest argument imaginable.

    Is Dorey insane?

  27. Steve Packard says:

    Vaccination as rape… Just when you think the AVN can’t get any more offensive with their BS…

  28. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    Yeah, for anyone who wants to split hairs over the semantics, you’re missing the larger point. Rape is considered an unambiguous horror in the modern world, and specifically in Australia where this story originally occurred.

    Vaccination is a high-benefit, low-risk intervention proven many times to prevent infectious diseases with only minimal side effects in >99% of the population.

    Vaccination isn’t rape.

    Comparing the two is almost laughably stupid.

    Rape was deliberately chosen as a comparison in order to capitalize on its contemporary association of being essentially the worst thing one human being can ever do to another. It’s a cheap rhetorical trick used because advocates can’t muster evidence to support their arguments.

    …and we’re done.

  29. WLU – “Rape was deliberately chosen as a comparison in order to capitalize on its contemporary association of being essentially the worst thing one human being can ever do to another. It’s a cheap rhetorical trick used because advocates can’t muster evidence to support their arguments.”

    Yes, in addition the comparison serves to demonize vaccination proponents. If the suggestion is that vaccination = rape, then that would mean that doctors or health care centers who offer vaccination = rapists. This sets the stage for encouraging uncivil behavior or even violence* against those same doctors and health care centers.

    I’m tired of that sh…approach.

  30. windriven says:

    My first thought was to brand Th1Th2’s mutterings as intellectual rape but can masturbation ever be rape?

  31. windriven, I have this thing called a scroll bar on my browser. It’s sort of the equivalent of caller ID allowing one to block out nuisance callers. :)

  32. windriven says:

    michele, that sounds great. I’ll have to see about upgrading my TRS-80 ;-)

  33. Dr Benway says:

    Ms. Doherty is slipping. No where did I see creative use of the CAPS-LOCK or reference to the holocaust.

  34. Dr Benway says:

    Oops I mean Dorey.

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