It may seem unbelievable. It is certainly a violation of trust. But physicians sex abuse of patients occurs with some regularity. Sadly, physicians are rarely punished and are often allowed to keep practicing medicine. Unsurprisingly, these same physicians often repeat the sex abuse behavior on new patients. The size of the problem of physicians sex abuse of patients is unknowable because statistics are not kept. The most comprehensive investigation was done by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2016.
WHY DOES THIS HAPPEN?
As was seen in the Catholic Church in the early 2000s secrecy over sexual abuse facilitates the abuse. One way to reduce the rate of physicians sex abuse is transparency. But may regulators and medical associations fight any action to inform the public of physicans sex abuse.
REPORTING REQUIREMENTS ARE INADEQUATE
Only 11 states have laws requiring medical authorities to report to police when they suspect a sex crime has been committed against an adult. Hospitals and clinics employing offenders fail to report, often to protect themselves. Medical societies, including the American Medical Association, fight any disclosure requirement and any law designed to shine a light on physicians sex abuse.
PUNISHMENT IS INADEQUATE
Even once a report is made, it is often the case that any punishment by regulators is private. The doctor may receive a private letter or private reprimand. State licensing boards do not post sanctions on their websites. The AJC study fund that even where a sanction is made public, its terms may be so vague that the public is not alerted to the physicians sex abuse.
Discipline for physicians sex abuse is often inadequate. Many states allow physicians disciplined for sexual abuse to return to practice. The AJC Study found nationwide that half of those physicians publicly disciplined still have active medical licenses. If one state does discipline a doctor, it is not unusual for the doctor to move to another state to resume practicing without any restrictions.
Patients who are particularly vulnerable are often targeted. Patients in an ob-gyn visit, patients who are under sedation or unconscious, patients who cannot speak English, pediatric patients – all have been targeted by physicians sex abuse.
Oklahoma is no different. Our state medical boards do not make the basis of discipline public. But we have had several high profile physician sex abuse cases in Tulsa and Oklahoma City as well as some smaller communities.
TIPS FOR PATIENTS
Here are some steps for patients before you see your doctor:
- Patients should never be watched dressing or undressing so long as they are capable of dressing themselves. Sufficient gowns and drapes should be provided.
- Exams of genitalia of opposite sex patients should be chaperoned. This is part of the American Medical Association’s Code of Ethics.
- Genital areas should only be examined with medical justification an in accepted method and the examiner should wear gloves.
- Unless pertinent to the reason for the visit, there should be no discussion about sex. comments about appearance of sexual preference is generally not appropriate. Details about the physician’s own sex life or preferences are never appropriate.
Due to the power imbalance between patients and physicians, any sexual contact is always wrong. Consent is not possible because of the power disparity.
WHAT TO DO IF PHYSICIAN ABUSE HAPPENS
If you or a family member have been a victim of physicians sex abuse, there are steps that can be taken. These include:
- Report the incident to law enforcement. It is often the case that once a patient has made a report, other patients of that physician with similar experiences come forward
- Report the incident to the state medical board. Oklahoma has two boards and both accept public complaints. The MDs are regulated by the Oklahoma Medical Board and their complaint procedure is online. The DOs are regulated by the Oklahoma State Board of Osteopathic Examiners and their complaint procedure is also online.
- Report to the hospital or clinic with whom the physician is affiliated.
- Seek help from support groups. Helpful groups include SNAP and RAINN.
Finally, victims of physician sexual misconduct have rights within the civil justice system. To understand these rights, contact Koller Trial Law for a free consultation.