By now, most of us are familiar with the tactics of the anti-vaccination movement, which typically include a mix of conspiratorial fear-mongering, targeted misinformation, and an overwhelming persecution complex. But just when you thought you’d heard it all, the anti-vax crowd has proven yet again that there is no low to which they won’t stoop.
Apparently outraged over Australia’s recent crackdown on personal belief exemptions for immunization, an Australia-based anti-vaccination group responded this week by posting a disturbing meme to their Facebook page comparing vaccination to rape.
The post, featured on the Facebook site of The Australian Vaccination Skeptics Network (AVSN), displays an obscenely offensive image showing a man holding his hand over a woman’s mouth, with a caption that reads: “FORCED PENETRATION. Really – no big deal, if it’s just a vaccination needle, and he’s a doctor. Do you really ‘need’ control over your own choices?”
The image has since been taken down, but not before it was screen-captured by Australian Women’s Weekly. Although they have now tried to distance themselves from the post, AVSN’s initial response was to double down on their abhorrent comparison after Facebook commenters told them how absolutely awful it is.
“This post isn’t tasteless – it is honest,” the group wrote on their page. “What truly IS tasteless is our elected government trying to tell us that we have to vaccinate our children even if we don’t believe it is best for their health.”
Except that’s not what the Australian government is doing; no one is forcing parents to vaccinate their children against their will. There is no law mandating vaccinations, and parents are still free to reject them for their children. However, those who choose to put others in danger by refusing to vaccinate their children will now be prohibited from sharing in their country’s public benefits program.
Under Australia’s new “No Jab, No Pay” policy, parents who don’t vaccinate their kids will no longer be eligible to receive government benefits, which could mean forfeiting as much as $11,000 in annual welfare payments. Of course, parents of children who are medically ineligible for vaccinations are not included under the new rule.
And clearly, no one is being forced to do anything. The government has given parents a choice: either do your part to protect the public’s health, or shirk your responsibility. The choice is up to parents. But parents who willingly choose not to vaccinate their children — a selfish choice that is in the disinterest of the public — will do so with the understanding that their decision disqualifies them from participating in publicly-funded government assistance programs.
In other words, parents who make choices that put others in danger and cost taxpayers a significant amount of money (outbreaks are expensive) won’t be allowed to benefit from taxpayer dollars. That makes perfect sense. And I suspect the anti-vax folks who created and posted that despicable image realize they have a losing argument — in fact, this is likely what motivated such abhorrent actions.
Anti-vaccination activists know that the science is not on their side. With nothing to back up their claims, they are now resorting to even more extreme rhetoric, like equating public health mandates to sexual violence. Indeed, this seems to be a go-to analogy for the The Australian Vaccination Skeptics Network, which was forced to change its name last year after the New South Wales government ruled that the original name — The Australian Vaccination Network — was misleading (although it appears that they still use their old name on Facebook).
History repeating itself
Interestingly, a little bit of digging revealed that this isn’t the first time Meryl Dorey, the founder of the group, has come under fire for comparing vaccines to rape. In one post from 2011, Dorey equates a court-ordered immunization — the result of a custody-related case in which a child’s divorced mother was ordered to have her child vaccinated in response to legal action taken by the father — to child rape:
In response to the outrage caused by that post, Dorey offered up a classic notpology and then proceeded to try to justify the comparison, writing: “I looked up the definition of rape prior to posting … that comparison and in the dictionary sense of the word, it is accurate.” She goes on to call the language choice a “vexed issue,” writing that “[p]erhaps the term violation would have been better, and in future, I will use that word.” But, she adds, it’s not her fault that she resorted to such a vile analogy — it’s those damn vaccines! They’re just so awful, you see, that she was at a loss for words: “[T]his mother and her child are being violated in so many ways it’s hard to know where to start.”
Four years later, Dorey still appears to be struggling to grasp the “vexed issue” of not comparing things that aren’t rape to rape. While she tried to blame this week’s incident on “another moderator,” the similarities here make it overwhelmingly clear that the same person is behind all of the posts. Given that Dorey is the founder of the group and the only known administrator of the group’s Facebook page and website, the only logical conclusion is that she posted the offensive material herself or, at the very least, approved of its content.
Furthermore, her response to this week’s incident is strikingly similar to how she responded to the outrage she caused in 2011 and clearly shows her commitment to this offensive analogy. Despite trying to distance herself from the post this week, Dorey later doubled-down on the inflammatory rhetoric in another post this week, linking to an article discussing definitions of rape that “pre-date the definition used today” and implying that she was actually correct in her use of the term rape to describe vaccine mandates:
Immune to shame
But this is not an isolated incident — far from it, actually. As one blogger noted, “there’s a disturbing amount of rape imagery, both subtle and not-so-subtle, in the language used by anti-vaccinationists to describe vaccination.”
And it doesn’t end there. Earlier this year, Age of Autism (AoA), a popular anti-vaccine blog, published a post comparing vaccine mandates for public schools to human trafficking. The post refers to vaccine mandates as “Vaccine Trafficking,” describing it as “a form of modern forced medical experimentation where people profit from the control and exploitation of others.”
But then this is the inevitable logical progression once you’ve gone from likening vaccines to Nazi medical experiments to then comparing childhood vaccinations to the Holocaust and suggesting that anti-vaccinationists are being treated like Jews were in Hitler’s Germany.
At this point, one thing is abundantly clear: Though they’re not immune to disease, anti-vaxxers sure are immune to shame.