Loretta Barnard

About Loretta Barnard

Loretta Barnard is a freelance writer and editor who has authored four non-fiction books, been a contributing writer to a wide range of reference books and whose essays have been published across a number of platforms. A regular contributor to The Big Smoke, she also coordinates the TBS Next Gen program.

Don’s “witch hunt” rhetoric echoes that of centuries past

When Don Burke labelled the voices against him a ‘witch hunt’, he was merely following a well-worn path that many have walked down before.



Oh that Don Burke. The poor lamb thinks he’s the victim of a witch hunt. My heart bleeds. Not.

The allegations against Don Burke are pretty heinous – that for many years he got away with belittling women, encroaching into their personal space, taking outrageous liberties, using wildly inappropriate language (which is deeply unprofessional to say the least), making women feel so threatened and uncomfortable that they gave up careers and opportunities just to get away from his slimy clutches – and I mean clutches. And I mean slimy. All the while these alleged offences were occurring, he was protected by his bosses because he was bringing in bucketloads of money for his network. He continued to rake in his enormous salary and was almost universally admired by his Australian viewing public. Now, in his desperate attempt to garner some sympathy, he’s saying he suffers Asperger’s and that he’s part of a witch hunt.

Well, in case you’ve forgotten, witch hunts were real things where actual women were killed. Some witch hunts sought out those troublesome women who had the temerity to complain they were victims of sexual abuse. Those women who tried to refuse men’s unwanted advances or protested publicly about inappropriate sexual encounters were labelled witches and accused of sleeping with the devil.

Witch hunts protected the lascivious perpetrators of unwanted sexual acts, so their crimes would be kept hidden from their communities. Their wrongdoing was a large part of history’s witch hunts and yet it was the victims who suffered and who in many cases were executed, usually by hanging. Yes, blame the victim (woman), save the criminal (man).

During the infamous 1692 Salem witch trials in the USA, some of the young women accused of being witches were said to be hysterical, given either to erratic outbursts of blasphemy or remaining silent and unresponsive for lengthy periods. Doctors could find no physical problems and attributed the women’s behaviour to the devil. Clearly, Satan had somehow entered the women and made them witches.

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If you were a young woman forced to look while an older man whipped out his penis and made his smarmy advances, or you were being groped in the pantry or forcibly pushed against the wall so your boss could have his way with you, and then had to hide it because no one would believe you, plus there was your honour to think of, then perhaps you too would scream uncontrollably, swear like a trooper and go into a mental decline. These were distressed women, powerless girls. And they were hanged.

A recent article in The New Yorker tells the story of a Salem servant girl raped by her employer. The authorities couldn’t understand what her problem was, silly girl complaining like that, and anyway, wasn’t she having sex with some animals on the side? Oh yes, and she wasn’t white so surely she was having a liaison with Lucifer. Another girl was told she should have expected what she got because of what she was wearing. Amazing how some things never change.

At this point it should be said that there were cases of children suffering what has now been attributed to epilepsy, screaming out and curling up in the foetal position. A number of women accused of inflicting this condition on the children were brought to trial. Others were persecuted because they didn’t attend church services (the devil again, no doubt); others were declared witches simply because they had no fixed abode; others still fell prey to jealousy over land or status. Clearly these cases don’t involve sexual abuse.

But the bottom line is that these women – for their perceived crimes and so-called association with the forces of darkness – were imprisoned, tried and executed. That’s what the witch hunts were. Unjust pursuits of women resulting in their deaths. Deaths carried out by men.

So for men like Don Burke, Kevin Spacey, Harvey Weinstein and their ilk to talk about being victims of witch hunts just adds another layer of insult over the already thick layer of injury. They need to get over themselves and accept that history has caught up with them. Finally.


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