I’ve read extensively this week about Belle Gibson and her interview with Tara Brown of 60 minutes. Whether Belle is guilty of fraud or not and how much of what she is saying is lies or truth is not my place to say. I don’t think we’ll ever really know what is true and what is fiction when it comes to Belle Gibson. Clearly, she has made some grave errors of judgement that have the potential to cost lives and she has admitted that at least some of her story was a untrue.
What does concern me, however, is the assumption from many that Belle is suffering from a mental illness. Worse, that it somehow mitigates her accountability in this matter. I find this troubling on a number of fronts.
First, most people are not qualified to make the assertion that Gibson is mentally ill after watching a segment of television, or even more worrying, reading about her online. Surely, armchair psychologists couldn’t possibly have the knowledge to distinguish a psychological pathology in this manner. And yet, at least half the comments that I have seen or heard have alluded in some way to Gibson being mentally ill or ‘not all there’. The fact that so many Australians feel comfortable enough to do just that suggests to me that there is a huge stereotype surrounding mental illness, and consequently, that perhaps mental illness is dangerously misunderstood by the Australian Public.
Furthermore, it concerns me greatly that many people have claimed that they ‘feel sorry’ for Gibson. In a sense, this feels a little like victim blaming, where the focus of a crime story is misplaced. Instead of sympathising with the victims of a crime, we turn our attention to justifying the actions of a criminal. As an example, ’Why was she out late at night alone?’ or ‘This is going to destroy that young boy’s life’ are sentiments I have heard all too often in cases where men have been found to perpetrate sexual violence against women.
Social commentators and social media commenters alike get stuck thinking of the alleged criminal as the victim, and often demonise (unintentionally or otherwise), the actual victim. In this case if Gibson is lying, (which seems to be the vast consensus), interested observers feel sorry for her because they perceive that she has a mental illness, without consideration to the people she has allegedly defrauded.
If Gibson is mentally ill, this is for a trained professional to determine and simply being a liar, (and not a particularly good one at that it seems), is not reason enough, in my opinion, to pity her.
And this is where my biggest problem lies with regards to the public reaction to Belle Gibson’s interviews. Regardless of what Belle Gibson did or didn’t do no one is talking about the people she has hurt. No one is turning their attention to the real victims in this story. The people who’s money she took with the promise of donating to cancer charities. The charities that were promised the funds. The corporations that backed her business ventures. The patients that are desperate for any small glimmer of hope for new treatments that paid for her advice regarding diet as a cure. Many may have unknowingly risked their lives by following her advice, which we now know to be unfounded. Or even just those people – parents, children, grandparents – that are battling cancer right now, have battled it in the past or are watching a loved one battle it as we speak. These are the people we should be focussing on. These are the people that deserve an unqualified apology from Belle Gibson as her story stands right now.
I don’t feel sorry for Belle Gibson. She is a young woman that, according to her own words, lied about her diagnosis while simultaneously profiting from it. I don’t know whether she has a mental illness or not, and frankly I’m not sure its relevant or appropriate for me to comment on. But I do know that there are thousands of people suffering from the affects of cancer right now that deserve our sympathy and understanding far more than Gibson does.