I would like you to imagine something for me. Imagine you have had a health scare, and need to go into hospital for some tests to determine whether you have cancer. The test is invasive, so you need to be under general anaesthetic while it occurs.
Imagine that five weeks later, you receive a call from the hospital telling you that you were cancer free, but that another matter needed to be discussed with you. Imagine them telling you that, while you were unconscious, a theatre nurse took a photograph of your genitalia and showed it to other nurses.
Imagine being told that while the nurse had been fired, the photo had not been checked for deletion before she left the hospital. Imagine learning that what the nurse did was not a criminal offence, and so there would be no further consequences for her.
And then imagine hearing that she had since found a new job and was working in another operating theatre among patients who were also unconscious and naked in the presence of this nurse (and her phone.)
What I have just described is not a fictional story; it happened to Brieana Rose* last year.
The hospital had to inform Brieana Rose because privacy laws in NSW required her to be informed. Had this not have been the case, the hospital would have had no legal obligations towards Brieana Rose at all.
The police were contacted and they interviewed the nurses to whom the image had been shown, but not the nurse who took the photo. In NSW, taking a photograph of a person’s private parts is only a crime if it is done “to obtain, sexual arousal or sexual gratification”. It’s not a crime if it is done to make jokes about the person in the photograph, so the police could do nothing about it.
I don’t know about Brieana Rose, but the knowledge that someone had taken a naked photo of me but not for sexual reasons would not provide me with any comfort. If anything, it would probably feed some of the worst fears I have about myself. It would confirm my fears that I am not “normal” like other women because a person whose job it is to care for the sick and vulnerable took out her mobile phone in a sterile environment and took a photo of my genitalia.
The knowledge would leave me wondering what was so awful or ridiculous about me that it was worthy of sharing. And I would repeat that question to myself every time I looked in the mirror.
If I had been to a hospital in my local area, I would wonder whether anyone I knew had seen the photo. If I had a son, like Brieana Rose does, then I would be wondering if he or his school friends had seen it. If, like Brieana Rose, I was a school teacher, I would wonder if my students had seen it.
These questions would haunt me.
Moving on from Brieana Rose for a moment, I want you to imagine another situation. Imagine that you have placed your mother or your father in a nursing home because you are not able to provide them with the same constant care that such a home can provide.
After thinking that you had done the best for your parent, imagine learning that the home had a “Genital Friday Club” where a nurse would take photographs of the private parts of elderly residents and staff would play a game where they had to guess which genitals belonged to which patient. Imagine learning that because the photos were not taken for the purposes of sexual gratification, then the conduct was not criminal.
It sounds unbelievable, but it is also a true story.
Again, I don’t know how the children of these patients feel, but I know how I would feel. I would feel that I had failed my parents by putting them in a place where they are being violated by the people I am paying to take care of them. I would feel that no matter where I placed them, I would be opening them up to this kind of risk. I would feel helpless.
This is what Brieana Rose is trying to change. She has temporarily taken leave without pay from her teaching role due to the trauma and pays for her own counselling. Brieana has not asked the hospital for compensation.
She says that no amount of money can restore her dignity. She just wants to make sure it does not happen to you. Or your parents.
She has bravely gone public about what happened to her, even though to do so she must have needed to overcome the desire to hide from the world.
She has had some support from the media and from the likes of former High Court Justice Michael Kirby, has met with NSW Attorney-General Gabrielle Upton and participated in a parliamentary inquiry, which made recommendations regarding changing these laws.
A law change would bring NSW in line with other states and with Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which says that no one shall be subjected to unlawful attacks on their honour and reputation, and that everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such attacks.
But the parliament will be more inclined to heed the inquiry’s recommendations and the ICCPR if it knows that the community is in favour of a change in law.
That’s where we come in.
As Catholics, we understand this is not only about privacy. We know that even though Brieana Rose might feel like her dignity has been taken from her, nothing can take it away because human beings, made in the image and likeness of God, have inalienable and intrinsic dignity.
It’s also a life issue, because people are less likely to seek health care – even for the most serious of matters – if they are afraid that someone can take photos of them while they are unconscious.
And it’s not unreasonable to imagine that someone who had been the victim of such a violation could be tempted to self-harm.
A change in law could save lives.
As Catholics, we are obligated to do what we can when to uphold life and the dignity of the human person. So often, we feel helpless in the face of the many attacks on human dignity we see today, but this is one we can easily address.
Brieana Rose has started an online petition which you can sign and you might also like to send a copy of this article to your State MP and let him or her know that this is an issue you would like resolved.
Thanks in advance for your support of this important cause.
*Not her real name