Thanks for being part of our team, Oprah!

Thank you Oprah for liberating us by allowing us to see the power of ‘speaking our truth’ and thanks for becoming part of amandamillar&co.

I’ve seen a pivotal change in the reporting of sexual abuse since Rose McGowan sparked the #metoo campaign on social media. It unleashed very sordid and often shameful secrets that too many women have hidden for too long.  Not so long ago, these stories would have been undermined by claims of ‘trial by media’. Social media’s changed all that.

So when Oprah let rip at the Golden Globes last week, I felt my time was right.

Oprah did me a favour on two fronts:

  1.  She gave me gold. am&co prides itself on offering the best examples of how to tell your story. So why can’t Oprah Winfrey now be part of my stable of experts? We’ll use her speech in our presentation training to underline the power of personal stories combined with her emphatic and committed delivery to illustrate one helluva way to deliver your message and get the world’s attention. 
     
  2. In a deeper way, her courageous words calling for a whole new ‘open’ future have allowed me to address a toxic moment in my past.

If only there was an Oprah around when I was a 17 year-old cadet reporter decades ago. Her words would have given me the power to shut down and report a predatory boss.

Every morning when I’d be summoned to his desk to be given my assignments for the day, he’d physically pull me into his body so that his genitals pressed up against me. This was going on while the rest of the newsroom tapped away on their Olivettis.  Every one knew. No one did anything. In fact, it was an ongoing office joke.

He was the same boss, who felt he was entitled to jam me up against his van one night as I left the office. He insisted that I get in his vehicle. Thankfully, one of my male colleagues turned up and rescued me – even if it did end in a fight and ultimately, him ‘punishing me’ by not giving me good assignments from then on.

Amanda Millar as a cadet reporter

Amanda Millar as a cadet reporter

I know I wasn’t the first and the last female cadet reporter targeted.  I also was so ignorant. I didn’t know that what I’d been subjected to constituted a sexual assault. A serious crime – no less. I thought, misguidedly, it had to be my fault.  And I didn’t even tell my mother – let alone the police.

I went on to witness this guilt-ridden response so many times in my reporting career in trying to seek justice for many women and children who’d been abused by bullying, intimidating and all too often, powerful men who thought it was their right to ‘have a play’ or their way with whoever was accessible. They were the hardest stories to tell. Why would a woman want to go public about something so shameful?

The most sensational experience of this was when I investigated the women who had been sexually violated, raped and assaulted by their own doctor who was also Christchurch’s deputy mayor at the time, Morgan Fahey.

Morgan Fahey, the Christchurch doctor who raped and sexually assaulted his patients.

Morgan Fahey, the Christchurch doctor who raped and sexually assaulted his patients.

The first three women were so afraid (and rightly so) of the reaction from the establishment and the locals that they hid their identity when they told their story of his  extensive abuse on national telly. The story was the last resort as the police hadn’t acted on their claims.

Locals called the women cowards, sluts and media whores. I was called much worse and was even sent faeces in the mail for reporting it.

The much-respected GP rejected and denied their claims. He mistakenly thought he would make me go away by threatening legal action and relying on public outrage against the women and TV3 for running the story.

He didn’t bargain on the first story unleashing something of a #MeToo response as 30 other victims were to come forward out of nowhere. However, there was no social media in the late 90's and without that solidarity and protection that the digital platforms now gives victims of sexual abuse, these women were forced to make a very tough decision. If they went public, that demanded fearlessness, fortitude and stamina. They had to face a vitriolic and vengeful public by being open in the media and committing to going through a court case.

In the end 22 of them were courageous enough to take it further. One of those women had been raped by Fahey when she was 8 months pregnant. He was her obstetrician and the crime happened in his surgery. For nearly 20 years she’d hidden her story. She believed that no one would believe her because at the time she was a pregnant and an unmarried 18 year old. She was alone and terrified of his power. All that changed after seeing my first of three investigations on 2020.

She asked if she could take a hidden camera into his surgery.  We recorded an incredible exchange when she showed him a photo of her as an 18 year-old and asked if he remembered her? He replied he didn’t. She then told him he had raped her.  With that, the doctor put his head in his hands and said:  “If I did do this, I am deeply sorry but please don't tell my family”.

There was more outrage when we finally ran the hidden pictures. Critics claimed it was invasive and trial by media. We were only able to broadcast the story after we fought all the way to the Appeal Court to lift an injunction that Fahey’s lawyers had slapped on TV3 to try and stop us showing the images. The court said yes on the basis that the matter was in the public interest and we would have to prove the truth.

Long story cut short – at the last minute, two years after we at TV3’s 2020 began our investigations, Morgan Fahey finally owned up. He pleaded guilty to 13 charges that included rape, sexual violation and unlawful sexual connection. He was sentenced to six years in jail.

It took a hell of a lot of faith, trust, courage and patience for those women to hang in with me throughout that time.  They had no #MeToo campaign to bolster their confidence, build solidarity or drive their commitment to seeking justice. *

I’m now uplifted and relieved that the #MeToo campaign - bookended by Rose McGowan’s courageous revelations and the power and influence of Oprah’s inspirational speech, will mean that no one woman need ever be fearful “to speak their truth” again.

I also know my daughter who began her working career as a journalist would never today put up with the criminal, predatory abuse that her mother did.  And that indeed gives me a whole lot to feel confident about.

*Amanda’s investigations into Dr Morgan Fahey’s crimes earned her the Qantas Media Awards Supreme Award in 2000 for Current Affairs Reporter of the Year as well 'The Interviewer of the Year' for  two consecutive years  (1999 and 2000).