Surgeon says people did not ‘understand irony of comments’

Dr Gabrielle McMullin prompted criticism over remarks that women should stay silent on sex assaults

An Irish-educated doctor based in Australia, who attracted criticism for her remarks on how women should tolerate sexual assault in order to protect their careers, has said many women have come forward to share their own experiences since her controversial interview.

Dr Gabrielle McMullin, a vascular surgeon who trained in Trinity College before moving to Australia in 1990, had quoted the case of a trainee doctor named Caroline who had been assaulted. While she took a successful court action, her career never recovered, she said.

"What I tell my trainees is that, if you are approached for sex, probably the safest thing to do in terms of your career is to comply with the request," she said on an ABC Radio interview whilst publicising her book Pathways to Gender Equality - The Role of Merit and Quotas.

In a follow-up interview on the Ray D’Arcy Show on Tuesday, Dr McMullin said many people did not understand the irony of some of her comments.


“I would never suggest that any woman supply sex to their boss and in fact in the speech that I gave on the day of the book launch I said that sex should never be in the equation of merit,” she said.

Revisiting the example of the trainee surgeon Caroline, she said she had been groomed and assaulted, and that a subsequent action had negatively impacted her career.

“As a result of her finally lodging a complaint with the [administration] she was threatened with failure or being kicked off the scheme after all this work for all these years. And so she took the case to court and after 15 gruelling days in which she was extensively cross-examined - she was even asked to describe the shape and size of his penis - she won the case.

“It was a moral victory but after that she was completely shunned by the neurosurgical community.”

On the broader issue of advances in the workplace, she said sex was a “powerful tool” in male dominated industries including law enforcement, construction, the legal profession and big business.

She also said there needed to be a change in the culture of impunity for men who make inappropriate advances.

“At the moment the advice is difficult. In Australia since my remark 12 women have come forward but anonymously - they will not give their names - and said exactly the same sort of things have happened to them. But they are still not prepared to give their names.

“We have to somehow change things where you make a complaint and have the man be the one who is reprimanded for it. At the moment men have no consequences for this.”

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times