Victims of sexual assault by physicians include babies, adolescents, women in their 80s, drug addicts and jail inmates, and survivors of sexual abuse, says a
national investigation on doctors and sexual abuse published July 5, 2016, in the
Atlanta-Journal Constitution. However, the victims "could be anyone," write the authors. More than 2,400 U.S. doctors have been sanctioned for sexually abusing their patients, the authors said, and more than half of those sanctioned were allowed by state medical boards to keep their licenses. "Layer upon layer of secrecy," the authors said, makes it "nearly impossible" for the public, and even the medical community, to know the true extent of physician sexual abuse. The authors launched their investigation in 2015 after one learned that two-thirds of Georgia doctors disciplined for sexual misconduct were permitted to practice again. They found that physician sexual misconduct is tolerated "to one degree or another" in all 50 states. The authors obtained and analyzed more than 100,000 disciplinary records and identified more than 3,100 doctors who had been publicly disciplined for sexual infractions since January 1, 1999. More than 2,400 of those violations "clearly involved patients." Offenses included "lewd comments during intimate exams" and extended as far as "masturbation by the doctor in front of the patient, swapping drugs for sex, and even rape." It was not always clear whether the patient consented, the authors said, but "consent is never a defense because of the power imbalance between doctors and patients." While sexual assault of a patient is prohibited by the Hippocratic oath, not to mention the law, the authors found that doctors are "frequently seen as sympathetic figures in need of therapy instead of predators who must answer to the police." After diagnosis and treatment, they often return to practice. Only 11 states have laws requiring medical authorities to report to police or prosecutors when they suspect a sexual crime has been committed against an adult, the authors said. The authors compared the findings to those of big banks (doctors are considered "too big to fail"), as well as to the scandals in the Catholic church, because although "it doesn't necessarily happen every day . . . it happens far more often than anyone has acknowledged." The extensive report also includes separate pages on the investigation's
methodology, as well as
breakdowns of findings in all 50 states, and numerous case studies of individual doctors who committed sexual assault and the professional repercussions, or lack thereof, that they subsequently faced.
HRC Recommends: Employers should create a workplace culture that conveys a "zero tolerance" policy for behavior that includes sexual abuse or harassment of patients and coworkers. Risk managers can work with senior leadership and human resource managers to implement and enforce policies prohibiting harassing behavior and provide mechanisms to safeguard against such behaviors. Facilities should develop and implement a clearly stated policy and distribute it to all employees and staff and post the policy prominently throughout the facility; provide training to employees and staff at orientation and periodically thereafter regarding recognition and prevention of harassment; implement a procedure for reporting allegations of sexual harassment and make employees and staff aware of the procedure; implement a procedure to expeditiously investigate complaints of harassment; and develop standards for corrective action. Supervisors should report all harassment complaints to senior management or human resources. Complaints against a member of the medical staff should be brought to the attention of the president of the medical staff and, if appropriate, the organization's chief executive officer for investigation pursuant to medical staff bylaws and applicable law. Risk managers should ensure that a policy is in place outlining the process and procedure for reporting disciplinary actions to the National Practitioner Data Bank and to state licensing boards.