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‘The Butcher of Bega’: a deviant doctor

By Sheleyah Courtney - posted Tuesday, 18 November 2008

The horrific petrifies: here I am referring to the troubling responses of the public and the media to the multiple, grisly crimes of Graeme Reeves aka “the butcher of Bega”. The horrific petrifies because people refuse to entertain it. Despite this, it lurks, an abject thing that uncomfortably haunts social imaginaries.

Julie Kristeva writes of these not so vague things: even “from its place of banishment, the abject does not cease challenging its master” (1982).

Hélène Cixous has pondered these problems that often do erupt in not so unimaginable acts of violence against women. The snake-haired spectre of the gorgon Medusa has not been unfathomed either in art, literature or popular culture. In her “Laugh of the Medusa,” (1976) Cixous writes that because women are a dangerous dark labyrinth, that the dark is therefore prohibited, we are forbidden from exploration of such a dread place. We make a monster of Medusa, herself cursed so who deserves our pity, and we thereby are able to banish our horrors and stand still.


I ask now though, why on earth (the earth our mother!), why, despite a not unreasonable if ill-focused effort by the Australian press to properly demonise him, was a man who mutilated the genitalia and in some cases barely indirectly caused the death of very close to 500 Australian women - 500, not 5 or even 50 - let even further loose upon Australian women by being granted extended bail conditions recently so that he could visit Canberra. Why?

Only a few days after he was granted bail we mourned again for the 80 Australian victims of the Bali bombers, as their long desired (by many) execution by firing squad finally took place in Indonesia. With horror we have watched many times their three smiling faces splashed across screens and pages. We grieved again with the families of those who they maimed and killed.

Some years ago, we grieved too for Anita Cobby, a young wife, beauty queen and nurse who was raped and murdered by five young men. They were swiftly brought to justice (within 22 days of Anita’s murder) as news that they had committed upon the hapless Anita almost unheard of atrocities, spilled out to the Australian public who were righteously outraged and horrified, if not struck immobile from horror.

500, 80 and 1.

Clearly quantity does not qualify. I hesitate to point out the obvious but it seems necessary: if Graeme Reeves - a gynaecologist and obstetrician, who was struck off in 2004 for breaching practice restrictions and who remains persistently referred to in the press and broadcast media as “doctor” rather than say, “deviant” - had surgically removed 500 Australian men’s penises without their owners’ permission or knowledge until after the fact he might well have been lynched.

But the other not irrelevant side of this hypothetical is that men might never have revealed the crime, given that their female counterparts who actually did suffer, in many cases, removal of their entire external genitalia did not come forward for several years largely due to shame. Indeed, for many men (and I suspect many women too) the loss of and/or ravaging by blade of vital organs of sexual pleasure might equate very closely to death itself.


Furthermore, such a person, had he severed 500 penises, would certainly not be let free to wander in the nation’s capital or any where else. Even more alarmingly and perplexingly, the obvious fact of his extreme psychopathology (regardless of the specificities of its diagnostic type/s) seems to be lost on the judge who granted him bail, the media and the public. Why?

These are not comfortable issues to try to consider, but that does not mean that they should not be approached, even if, as I propose, it is psychologically petrifying for the public - which includes the media - to do so directly. Instead, this man’s actions were only addressed from the perpendicular so to speak, that is as breaches of restrictions placed upon him to practice medicine. He was not hunted aggressively and directly as the extremely violent and dangerous menace to all Australian women that he is.

This is why we also heard quite a lot from the media in emphasising Reeves’ barbarity but really only in the context of the numerous failures of the medical profession to either police their deviants (including Reeves) or to seriously enforce any such policing/restrictions that they deem fit for deviant doctors that they have actually discovered.

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About the Author

Sheleyah Courtney is lecturer in the Department of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Sydney. Her research is among marginalised Hindu women of Varanasi, a city in North India that is holy for Hindus. She explores issues in Indian urban and diasporic communities of violence, cosmology, sexuality, and gender. Her work embraces phenomenological and psychological anthropology; and is informed by critical feminist theory. She is a catlover and Bollywood movie enthusiast.

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