Although she has almost no credibility in the wake of Paul Sheehan’s retraction of his article concerning her alleged rape this week, “Louise” may well have been the victim of a crime or crimes at the hands of someone, somewhere. She is clearly a disturbed and unhappy woman, and such women are particularly vulnerable to abuse of all kinds — including exploitation by careless newspaper columnists.

The story of Louise, who said she had been brutally raped by a group of “MERCs” (Middle Eastern Raping Cunts) is not Sheehan’s first serious blunder. His 2002 “Unique Water” report on the miracle water of Taren Point featured the same weaknesses that have landed him in so much trouble this week — the reliance on an unreliable source, the lack of fact-checking, the self-importance, and perhaps most of all, the willingness to believe a story that suited his own needs. In the case of the miracle water, this was the human and perhaps forgivable need to believe in a miracle cure for the various physical ailments that Sheehan said he was suffering from at the time. In the case of Louise and the MERCs, however, it was weirder.

Sheehan’s preoccupation with race dates back at least as far as his 1995 visiting fellowship at Harvard University, during which he published an article about “Four Stories That The US Media Refuses To Tell”. Up there at No. 1 (ahead of “Bill Clinton’s Sex Addiction, The Rise of Right-Wing Women, and The Decline of the US Media”) was “The Race War of Black Against White”. This war, he said, had claimed the lives of 25 million whites in the form of interracial crime (a figure that failed to take into account the impact of socio-economic factors). White Americans, he said, were retaliating in unfortunate but understandable ways — like, say, the Oklahoma City bombing.

Right. Let’s leave aside for the moment Sheehan’s response to any suggestion that Muslim bombings are justified by injustices experienced by their co-religionists.

On his return to Australia, he began writing about the then-trendy target of “Asian” crime gangs in the ghetto of Cabramatta — back in the days before Australians developed a taste for laksa and a distaste for Pauline Hanson. But he really came into his own with the Sydney gang rape trials and the Cronulla riots that followed in their wake. If black crime helped to bring about the Oklahoma bombing, then Muslim gang rapes certainly triggered the Cronulla riots — a line he repeated in his report this week. Sheehan of course covered the trials for The Sydney Morning Herald and in his 2006 book Girls Like You.

This book described the long, drawn-out trials of the infamous “K brothers” — brothers described by their defence team as “cultural time bombs”. This was a description that Sheehan was more than happy to endorse. How many more such time bombs lay hidden in our suburbs?

As it turns out, several fewer than Sheehan would have had us believe on Monday.

Fairfax owes a duty of care to its troublesome source. Louise’s lurid allegations would have remained confined to her those in her immediate vicinity had their senior journalist not provided her with a megaphone. She has caused immense damage to the Arab and Muslim communities, to survivors of sexual violence, but most of all to herself. She is now far more vulnerable than she was before Paul Sheehan crossed her path. I hope that any health or welfare professionals who approach Fairfax on her behalf receive an appropriately receptive hearing.

And I hope that Fairfax sees fit to apologise to (and pay compensation to) representatives of the Arab and Muslim communities, to whom Sheehan has failed to apologise.

A hefty donation to support services for survivors of sexual violence would also be in order.