Doctors are some of the most trusted members of society, and for many, that trust is rightfully earned and given. Nothing is more important than your health; when something goes wrong, you trust your doctor will do everything possible to help you get better.
Unfortunately, there are untrustworthy people in every industry, including the field of medicine, where doctor sexual abuse occurs. This ultimate betrayal of trust can be devastating to the sexual abuse survivor. Though nothing can take away what has been done, survivors have the right to seek legal justice and use their voices to bring their abuser’s heinous actions to light.
Prevalence of Doctor Sexual Abuse
A 2019 report on the National Institutes of Health’s website noted, “The true extent of sexual abuse of patients by physicians in the U.S. health care system is unknown.” Unfortunately, this is true of sexual abuse as a whole. Many survivors feel they do not have enough evidence, will not be believed, or are afraid of embarrassment and shame.
Doctors take an oath not to harm and receive specific instructions on what that means regarding sexual contact. If you have been sexually abused by a doctor, it is not your fault.
A 2017 exploratory analysis of 101 cases of physician sexual abuse of patients found that the primary forms of abuse in these cases included the following:
- Inappropriate touching (33%),
- Sodomy (31%),
- Rape (16%),
- Child molestation (14%), and
- Purportedly consensual sex (7%).
The study also found that females and children or adolescents were more likely to be abused. Physicians who examined patients without supervision and in non-academic settings were more likely to commit sexual abuse.
Among other things, a 2016 detailed investigative report series by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution evaluated doctor sexual abuse within each state. The report also examined the laws applying to sexual misconduct and doctor to patient sexual abuse to determine which states were the most and least likely to support patient rights.
California had the third highest ranking for supporting patients, behind only Delaware and Texas.
What Constitutes Doctor Sexual Abuse?
In the medical field, the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) refers to inappropriate sexual behavior as “sexual misconduct.” The California Medical Board uses both terms regarding inappropriate acts and discipline.
According to Business and Professions Code Section 726, “The commission of any act of sexual abuse, misconduct, or relations with a patient, client, or customer constitutes unprofessional conduct and grounds for disciplinary action.” The section and disciplinary actions apply to any physician, surgeon, psychotherapist, or alcohol and drug abuse counselor.
Doctor to patient sexual abuse occurs when a physician uses their position of authority to initiate nonconsensual sexual contact. In many cases, to provide a proper diagnosis, a doctor must touch a patient’s body at the point of injury or concern.
Doctors should never make uncomfortable or sexual advances toward a patient. Some examples of sexual misconduct include:
- Touching a patient inappropriately, especially when that contact is not necessary for providing medical care;
- Failing to use gloves while examining sexual organs;
- Insisting a patient reveal parts of the body unrelated to the medical examination being conducted;
- Expressing sexual remarks during an examination or at any point during a doctor-patient interaction;
- Pressuring a patient into unnecessary physical exams of private areas;
- Failing to explain to a patient what the medical professional is doing and why they are doing it, particularly during a vaginal, rectal, pelvic, teste, or breast exam;
- Coercing or forcing a patient to exchange sexual favors for highly addictive drugs like hydromorphone and oxycontin;
- Installing secret cameras in dressing or undressing areas and bathrooms; and
- Refusing to allow another medical professional or staff member in the room when requested by a patient.
This is unacceptable behavior for anyone, but it is especially impermissible among medical professionals you should be able to trust. If you or someone you know has been sexually abused by a doctor, we encourage you to take action.
Sexual predators rarely stop at one victim, and you could help protect countless others from suffering the same experience.
What to Do If You Were Sexually Abused by a Doctor
Many patients who suffer sexual abuse are so shocked by what happened that they do not know what to do, so they often do nothing. Others may not fully understand what happened because of medication interactions or sedation. If you suspect you were sexually abused, here are essential steps you may want to take.
Seek Medical Care
If possible, seek medical help immediately after the assault. Medical attention is generally provided by a sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) in an emergency room or medical clinic. Trained to provide care specifically for sexual assault, these nurses can help gather evidence and testify in court.
Report Doctor Sexual Abuse
Filing a police report is often the first step for many patients. Based on available evidence, the district attorney will decide whether to press criminal charges and go to court. A conviction could result in fines, incarceration, probation, loss of medical license, and placement on a sex offender registry.
Contact the Medical Facility
You may choose to inform the physician’s office or facility where the abuse by a practitioner under their employment took place. This does not impact your case, but it can lead to disciplinary action that ends the cycle of sexual abuse.
Inform the State Medical Licensing Board
The Medical Board of California has an online complaint submission form and resources to explain what to expect once you file a complaint. This process includes a review, investigation, and other additional actions.
File a Civil Lawsuit
A civil lawsuit provides the opportunity to seek justice through financial compensation and does not interfere with any criminal case filed. We understand no amount of money can make up for what you have been through, but the funds can help you pay for past and future medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Civil investigations may also hold other parties, such as the hospital, medical facility, or even a negligent regulatory agency liable for the abuse if they acted in a way that allowed it to happen.
A traumatic event such as sexual assault can have long-term mental and emotional impacts if not adequately addressed. Seek guidance from a therapist, counselor, or support group to help you find ways to deal with your feelings, communicate your thoughts, and develop healthy coping mechanisms. You can also reach out 24/7 to the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
If You Were Sexually Abused by a Doctor, Contact Boucher LLP
Coming forward with a sexual abuse allegation can be difficult for many people. The trauma-informed sexual abuse team at Boucher LLP understands the sensitive nature of these claims, and we are here to help our clients seek justice and compensation for what they have have endured. Our sexual abuse attorneys at Boucher LLP know how to navigate the complex California legal system and have extensive experience fighting for survivors of sexual abuse.
Contact us to schedule a free case consultation.