OPINION: imagine your privacy being violated like this.

Picture this.

You're at your most vulnerable, having recently sustained serious injuries from a shark attack. You're in the midst of panic and confusion, mixed with the physical impact of blood loss and pain.

In one of your darkest times, the public interest surrounding what has happened to you is palpable. It's all a lot of people can talk about - 'the Sydney shark attack victim'

Then someone involved in your care decides it's okay to take a photograph of what you've endured. The photo is then shared across social media. 

This is exactly what happened to Lauren O'Neill.

Watch: the case explained. Post continues below.

Video via 9News.

On Monday night, the young woman was enjoying an evening swim at a private wharf in Elizabeth Bay at around 7:45pm, when a bull shark latched onto her leg, leaving her seriously injured.

Paramedics rushed to the scene to help.

A neighbour, who happened to be a veterinarian, had applied a tourniquet by the time they arrived, and fortunately, the woman's condition stabilised the following day in hospital. 


O'Neill's identity was soon confirmed, images of her plastered across the news and Internet.

Footage of the aftermath of the shark attack soon went viral too - including a particularly controversial shot of an empty wharf covered in human blood.

Not only was the world privy to the blood splatter of Sydney's shark attack victim, but the appetite for information on O'Neill's condition was insatiable. It was almost beyond the point of well-meaning concern. There was a macabre level of fascination. And unfortunately, this level of intrigue meant O'Neill's privacy was completely violated in her most vulnerable moments. 

When O'Neill was admitted to St Vincent's Hospital in Sydney, doctors performed a marathon surgery to save her right leg. But during her ordeal, at the point she was in a critical condition, a photo was taken of O'Neill's leg showing the extent of her injuries.

We don't need to see the photo itself to know a shark bite is a horrifying thing to happen. But someone involved in her medical care decided otherwise.

NSW Ambulance has now admitted that it was the source of the leaked image, which appears to have been taken inside the emergency department soon after she arrived at the hospital.

"NSW Ambulance sincerely apologises to Ms O'Neill for the breach of her privacy and the additional distress it has caused her and her loved ones at this most difficult time," a spokesperson said in a statement.


"We spoke with Ms O'Neill's family this afternoon and informed them that we believe a NSW Ambulance staff member was responsible for the breach of her privacy.

"NSW Ambulance takes its patient privacy obligations very seriously and is continuing to investigate this breach to determine the full details of the incident."

Prior to the statement, St Vincent's hospital's spokesperson told Sydney Morning Herald it was a matter they were taking very seriously.

"St Vincent's has become aware of photos in the public domain that appear to have been taken in the emergency department and are related to those of a patient injury. St Vincent's takes patient privacy obligations extremely seriously and is investigating this issue as a matter of priority," the spokesperson said.

"We have informed the patient of the photos being taken and circulated online. We have sincerely apologised for any part St Vincent's played in the photos being taken."

Since stabilising, O'Neill has released a statement thanking her neighbours for their assistance, as well as the ambulance, police and specialist surgical teams for their incredible work.

There's an important distinction to make. There are undoubtedly dozens of incredible medical staff and civilians who worked hard to ensure O'Neill was okay and could make a full recovery. That is to be commended.

But two things can be true at once - whoever took an unauthorised image of O'Neill at her most vulnerable has done something wrong. It's an act that also speaks to our society's innate curiosity, and what happens when that curiosity morphs into something toxic.


As per NSW law, in order to protect the privacy and confidentiality of those working or visiting NSW hospital facilities, no photography or recording may be captured by patients, staff or visitors without informed consent unless the image is essential for clinical care.

The distribution of said image doesn't exactly scream 'essential for clinical care'.

Sometimes all it takes to bring us back to reality is to sit and think how we would feel if in someone else's position. Because in this situation, how could you not feel violated?

It's okay to wonder and worry about how someone like O'Neill is doing, given the horrific circumstances. It's okay to read intently about the story, and hope a similar attack doesn't occur again anytime soon.

But it's never okay to probe too deeply into a stranger's pain, distributing an image that is so private, so personal and something the victim will be healing from for a very long time. The vast majority of us get this. It's the outliers that need to catch up quick smart.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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