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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 24 November 2018
NEWS 8 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 24 NOVEMBER 2018 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM How Maria Moutsidis found the strength to face a haunting experience from her past The actress came forward with revelations of her being sexually abused by a Greek doctor, decades ago Maria Moutsidis is used to being under a spotlight. Under her adopted stage name, Maria Mercedes, she has followed a long, glorious trajectory in musical theatre, starting out from a TV talent contest in the early 1970s, when she was still a teenager. But now she made news as one of the key players in a harrowing story, revealing a dark secret that has been tormenting her for decades. Speaking to the Age, Maria talked about her repeated sexual abuse in the hands of a Hawthorn-based Greek doctor, very respected and popular among Greeks (despite being named in the Age report, Neos Kosmos withholds his details for legal reasons, as there had been no charges pressed yet). Two more women stood by Maria's side, reporting similar - or worse - experiences of inappropriate behaviour, touching, harassment, verging to sexual assault. The 75-year-old doctor, who is now retired, claims that he has no recollection of the women who say that were his patients. His lawyer claims that the doctor suffers from "significant cognitive impairment", which prevents him from remembering patients, but is insisting on his innocence. Since the paper came out on Sunday, ten more women have reportedly also come forward, joining their voices with the original three accusers. "There are so many other women, who are in my position and are too afraid of the consequences," Maria Moutsidis tells Neos Kosmos. "They are afraid of what may happen, who's going to believe them," she adds. This is the fear that she had experienced herself, when she first went to her parents and told them what had been happening in the examining room. At the time, Maria had not yet turned 21 and was in a very vulnerable situation. "On top of being a first generation Greek-Australian, trying to find my place in society, I was also finding it difficult to cope with the entertainment industry. I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown," she remembers. "I had been to three doctors prior to him, they all said I had to slow down, but no-one was offering any solutions. Then, my cousin who was a receptionist at his practice suggested him; my parents and sister had started seeing him, as did a lot of our relatives. So did I, and he did help me greatly; he put me on vitamins, he helped me get over the situation that I had been in, but very soon after, the line was crossed." The examination would always take place behind locked doors and "for what- time than he should have," she says. "One day, he went too far, so I left and never went back," she says. "When I told my parents, my father was furious, but they didn't know what to do, they felt powerless because he was very well-known and respected," she explains. Maria Moutsidis knows what everyone who hears about this, wants to ask. "If you were treated like this, why did you go back? "I was manipulated into be- ever medical reason I came to see him, sore throat, anxiety, abdominal pain, he would ask me to fully undress. Always," she remembers. "He would also conduct these so-called exercises, where he would get you to bend backwards and forwards and he would stand behind you, push him- self against you, you could feel exactly what was going on," she says. The worst part was his insistence on conducting 'internal examinations': "He would insert his fingers and start feeling around there and pressing my stomach and spending a lot more lieving that he was the only one who could take care of me and my health," she explains, describing a relationship based on power and a dominant culture that led her to believe that she was responsible for what was happening. "These people exploit their position of power and they totally manipulate your emotions and your feelings; you think that you can't go anywhere else. That's how a lot of these people operate," she says. "Everytime I was sick I was filled with dread because I had no options." What is particularly strange is how this behaviour could have been going on for decades and still not be reported. "How can he operate for 50 years and no one really know what's going on? Certainly someone within the Greek community must have heard about his behaviour, someone must have known," she says. Maria Moutsidis found the strength to face this haunting experience that had been torturing her, with the emergence of the #metoo movement, bringing forward various cases of sexual harassment in show business. "I did a post on Facebook saying that this is so right, but it is not only happening in our industry, but also in other areas within our community," she remembers. Finding the courage she had lacked for decades, she went on to publicly write her experience and expose her abuser - later removing the doctor's name, fearing that she may face defamation charges. A friend who read the post, contacted her and introduced her to her sister, Sandra Rokebrand, who had a similar experience and had even filed a complaint to the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA), to no avail. "They are there to protect the public," says Maria Moutsidis, "and they don't do that." She went on to file a complaint herself, only to receive an answer when the agency was contacted by the Age, as part of their investigation. "If If they had done their job and intercepted earlier and brought him to the tribunal a lot earlier, then he would be stopped a lot earlier," she says bitterly. Coalition to support community languages in Victoria If elected, the Victorian Liberals and Nationals also pledge to invest in local Greek Orthodox parishes The Liberal National Coalition reaffirmed the party's commitment to support language education in Victoria, if elected. "Formal study of a second language is proven to enhance linguistic skills, critical thinking and foster an appreciation for other cultures," said Shadow Minister for Education, Tim Smith. "It is very important that we give the students and teachers at these Community Language Schools the funds they need to improve education outcomes." Meanwhile, Leader of the Liberal Party, Mr Matthew Guy pledged to assist the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in Melbourne undertake upgrades at parishes across the city by providing $520,000 worth of funding grants. The upgrades will include security measures like CCTV cameras and various capital works to the parishes' community halls, including kitchens and toilet upgrades. "In the Greek Orthodox community, church parishes aren't just places of worship, they're meeting places, places of fellowship and community support," Mr Guy said. “The Greek Orthodox parishes play a significant role in their communities, teaching Greek language, culture and history, supporting the elderly, and providing outreach services. This funding will mean that the Greek Orthodox Church can continue its important work in the This statement comes as a confirmation of the Liberal Nationals pledge to invest $6.88 million over four years into Community Language Schools to boost per capita funding, expanding delivery to 2000 pre-school students, and enhance training and administration. Shadow Minister for Multicultural Affairs, Inga Peulich. community." The parishes earmarked for funding are St Eustathios in South Melbourne; Sts Raphael Nicholas & Irene in Bentleigh; Sts Anargiri, Oakleig; Sts Constantine & Helen in South Yarra; Parkdale's Archangels and Frankston's Theofania. This means that a Liberal Nationals Government will raise funding per student from $215 to $245 to ensure these schools receive the funding they need to provide first-class language education for our students. "The study of community languages is important to students for their personal, academic and employment prospects and in supporting our multicultural communi- ties which have enriched our state and nation," said Shadow Minister for Multicultural Affairs, Inga Peulich. "The Liberal Nationals have always been strong supporters of language education and community language schools. "As a party which supports families and communities, we recognise the benefit of studying community languages which also assist in the formation of identity and strengthens communication within families." There are currently 160 Community Language Schools in Victoria, who play a leading role in providing language and cultural education to over 36,000 students in 40 different languages.
17 November 2018
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