In an image that circulated on the Australian Vaccination-Skeptic Network's (AVSNI) social media pages earlier today, the controversial organisation equated those who are pro-childhood immunisation to also being pro-rape.
The provocative image, part of an anti-vaccination campaign by the AVSNI, is of a woman in distress who has a man covering her mouth and physically intimidating her. The words accompanying the image read: "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 implication is clear: deciding your child requires life-saving vaccinations for them is the same as a man ignoring a woman's right to consent. Having a child's skin 'penetrated' by a doctor vaccinating them, according to the AVSNI, is akin to a woman being forcibly raped. Both are - says the AVSNI ad - taking autonomy away from another individual to control their own bodies, and are therefore up for comparison.
The latest scare campaign has, understandably, been met with fierce backlash already. Commenters have called this a 'new low' for the AVSNI, who have long been described as a provider of "misleading, inaccurate, and deceptive" vaccination information by the New South Wales Health Care Complaints Commission. Women's Rights Groups have also condemned the image choice as trivialising the very real issue of violence against women within our society.
The criticism was dismissed by the AVSNI page administrators. They wrote: "This post isn't tasteless - it is honest. 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."
The anti-immunisation group has long been rallying against the pro-vaccine views of the wider medical community by vocally claiming that vaccines cause autism and that vaccination is a “personal choice". Their self-proclaimed aim is to "empower people to make informed choices because every issue has two sides." This is despite scientific consensus that there is no 'other side' when it comes to whether we should vaccinate individuals.
The potential influence the group wields has led to government intervention in the past. The organisation were previously called the Australian Vaccination Network, but had this title revoked by the Administrative Decisions Tribunal in late 2013 for misleading new parents, and causing them to make health decisions for their children that put the wider community at risk.
Over 3 million children die each year worldwide from vaccine-preventable diseases. This figure would be even more distressingly high if so many parents did not make the choice to access vaccinations for their children, and thus build up the community's herd immunity. As we have seen in recent years, as childhood vaccination rates throughout Australia have decreased due in part to scare campaigns such as these, breakouts of potentially deadly diseases, including measles and whooping cough, have also started to increase again.
The AVSNI have today chosen to resort to offensive scare tactics to get their message across. Clearly they wanted a knee-jerk reaction and to have their views aired in the mainstream press. But it seems all they have proven by resorting to such a provocative campaign is that their opinions, going against scientific evidence, hold little to no weight on their own.
Disclaimer: The Weekly has since learned the image has been removed from the organisation's Facebook following a barrage of criticism from the online community.