Sexual Abuse by a Medical Provider

Sexual Abuse by a Medical Provider

Article by Tahira Merritt

Sexual Abuse by a medical or therapeutic provider is not only a violation of trust and medical ethics but, in many States, it is a violation of criminal and civil law. When you go to the doctor, dentist, hospital, counselor, physical therapist, or any other medical or therapeutic professionals, trust is inherent. But, unfortunately, sexual assault and sexual abuse in a medical setting is more prevalent and often under-reported or not reported at all.

An Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation in 2016 identified more than 2,400 cases of doctors across the country who had sexually assaulted their patients. The investigation found that half of these physicians were still licensed to practice medicine. One pediatrician assaulted as many as 1,000 young patients before being sent to prison.

The medical profession has failed these victims, too. Hospitals have ignored reports of sexual assaults and encouraged offending physicians to resign rather than reporting them to medical boards or law enforcement. This allows other patients to be at risk. The institution and often times even State’s District Attorneys protects medical professional with secrecy such as we have seen recently in the case of Evelyn Yang of former Presidential Candidate Andrew Yang.

Victims are embarrassed to report a doctor.

State medical boards are not always a good solution — they are often run by physicians who support their peers without oversight. Physicians’ disciplinary records are not always posted publically. And when they are, they commonly fail to describe the serious nature of sexual assault, using vague language like “boundary violation” or “unprofessional conduct.” In one case, a male physician who purposely did not wear gloves while conducting a rectal and vaginal exam of a female patient was reported for an “infection-control violation.”

What should you expect in a medical setting?

You have the right to be treated with dignity and respect. Know that you can ask for another person to be in the examination room with you such as a nurse, spouse, family member or friend if you are uncomfortable. You have the right to a same-sex examiner. You should be provided a private area to dress and undress. You should only be required to undress the parts of your body which will be examined and should not be required to be unclothed for long before and after the examination. The examiner should tell you what they are doing and why during the exam. You have a right to stop the examination at any time and to express that you are uncomfortable.

What should you expect during a pelvic, vaginal, breast, rectal, or testes exam?

Sometimes an exam of private areas of your body is necessary but it should be limited to steps that are medically necessary.

The examiner should:

  • Explain each part of the exam to you before and while it is happening.
  • Use gloves.
  • Encourage you to tell them if something feels wrong or uncomfortable.
  • Is the same sex as you, if you have asked for a same sex examiner
  • Have someone else in the room with you.
  • Only ask you to undress the part of your body being examined.
  • The examiner should NOT:

  • Refuse to answer your questions or tell you to be quiet.
  • Examine your genitals or breasts without gloves.
  • Refuse to tell you what they are doing or why they are doing it.
  • Decline to have another person in the room with you.
  • Insist that you undress parts of your body they are not examining.
  • Not allow modesty measures such as a sheet or other modesty garment.
  • Make inappropriate comments about sexual activity, your private life or body parts that make you uncomfortable.
  • What should I tell my child to prepare for an exam?

    Talk with your child about what to expect during an exam or visit to the doctor. You can tell them why the doctor might need to touch them in certain places, and what kind of touch is “good touch” and what is “bad touch” and not okay. Always encourage your child to tell you if they felt uncomfortable or if anything happened during the visit that made them uncomfortable.

    Should I report incidents of medical abuse?

    If you think you have experienced sexual abuse by a medical or therapeutic professional, you can report it by:

    Call 911 to alert Police and file charges.

    Report the abuse to the Medical Board of the State where the assault occurred. Contact a lawyer who handles sexual misconduct cases. Along with Attorney Robert Greening of GreeningLaw, Tahira Khan Merritt represented, in a civil case filed in Tarrant county, Texa, five survivors who were sexually assaulted by their physician, Donald Ozumba.