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The end result was the AVN’s authority to fundraise was revoked on October 20, 2010 meaning it can no longer conduct public fundraising appeals.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 by Rachael Dunlop