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Harvard-Educated Doctor Moves To Australia, Is Called A Sex Worker Twice In 24 Hours

Dr Alice Han is a TEDx speaker, a medical specialist and a global women's health expert.

But when she moved to Australia she was denied a motel room, labelled a sex worker, and has since been asked if she eats dogs.

Canadian-born Han is an obstetrician and gynecologist who moved to Melbourne in May, after being awarded a research fellowship to strengthen the public health response to violence against women.

Han, who is of Korean ancestry, moved from Toronto, which she described to 10 daily as "so multicultural and progressive".

So when her newly-purchased car got a flat tyre as she attempted to drive it from Brisbane to Melbourne on a Saturday, she was floored by the "overt discrimination and racial profiling" that ensued.

Han purchased this car from Brisbane in May and got a flat tyre in Grafton, 314km south of the Queensland capital. IMAGE: supplied

Han told 10 daily that on May 18 a tow truck driver dropped her off at the closest motel which had a vacancy online a little before 9.30 pm.

Despite reception closing at 9 pm, the owner of the motel let her in, but after a 10-minute exchange that she describes as "rough and aggressive" he kicked her off the premises.

"He asked me 'are you a working girl? Is that how you can afford the room?'. At first I didn't know what he was referring to," she told 10 daily.

Han said she then explained again that her car had a flat tyre and that she was meant to be staying in a hotel in Coffs Harbour but couldn't get there at the late hour given she had a flat tyre.

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"He said 'Your story sounds suspicious, we had a girl a few nights ago with a story like yours working out of her room and so we had to kick her out'," she said.

I then said, what do you mean? A prostitute?

Han then offered to show her ID and says she explained that she was not a prostitute but a doctor and a former instructor at Harvard Medical School.

Dr Alice Han. IMAGE: supplied

She stood for a few minutes trying to check in online, as the hotel booking website had credited her room in Coffs Harbour, enabling her to re-book another room at short notice.

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"The man became angrier, he said the fact that you are so selfish and inconsiderate in my reception area tells me you'll be inconsiderate and selfish in the room. We are very selective here about who we allow to stay," she said.

Han said she was verbally abused and forced out onto the street by the Caucasian man.

10 daily contacted the motel in question and the owner said: "After getting out of bed to let her in after our reception closed, I found her behaviour rude and inconsiderate to book online and not directly with us, that's all it was about."

"We get to decide who stays at our premise and I only want courteous people here."

Best-known for its annual Jacaranda Festival, Grafton is a city in the Northern Rivers region of the Australian state of New South Wales. IMAGE: Getty Images

He admitted that he repeatedly asked if she was a sex worker.

"Yes I had a reasonable inquiry about her being a working girl, because why would a lady turn up so late by herself and not call ahead or the insurance company not call ahead?" he said.

But the man denied he was racially profiling Han.

"The only one who racially profiled her is herself. I dismiss that entirely," he said.

Despite the motel having rooms vacant, Han was asked to leave. IMAGE: Getty Images

"Yes we have some racism in this country but not as bad as some people make out and she just played the race card," he told 10 daily.

Han reported the motel incident to local police. 10 daily contacted NSW Police who said they are not investigating the incident.

'Do You Eat Dog?' And 'You Speak Good English' Came Next

Han found accommodation at another motel in Grafton that night and, with the tyre shop not open until Monday, walked to the train station the next morning to get a train to Coffs Harbour.

"I was a  little disoriented and a man, again Caucasian, offered to help me with directions and before leaving he said to me 'are you a going to be a working girl in Coffs Harbour?'" she said.

This was the second incident in less than 24 hours.

"This has to be about my appearance and racial profiling because on both occasions our interactions were so short," she said.

On two other occasions in the weeks that followed as she settled in Melbourne, Han said otherwise polite men (all Caucasian and middle aged) made other comments she describes as "showing implicit bias".

"It's overt discrimination. Someone asked me if I eat dog and another person told me I speak English well," she said.

"But people don't seem to think racism exists in Australia."

Han is sharing her story, hoping to raise awareness and start a discussion about implicit bias.

"I want people to take something positive away from this. While it was all very upsetting for me, I want people to consider the impact their implicit bias can have on people," she said.

Contact the author alattouf@networkten.com.au