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Doctor Sexual Assault Attorneys: Recognizing Sexual Misconduct in the Doctor's Office

'Can I Sue A Doctor For Sexual Abuse?' Learn Your Legal Options

If you or a loved one were sexually assaulted by a doctor or other medical professional, our experienced attorneys can help. You are not alone. We're here for you every step of the way.

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Doctors have a duty to treat their patients with care and respect. In America, the doctor-patient relationship is sacred; patients expect to trust their physicians, along with everyone else who works in the doctor's office or hospital, with some of their deepest secrets. But in recent years, the nation's headlines have been filled with horrific stories of physicians and nurses sexually assaulting their patients.

We can help you come forward to share your story with confidence. Contact us for a free consultation today by calling our team, or learn more about sexual abuse lawsuits.

"Our alliance has over 15 sexual abuse lawyers nationwide dedicated to helping survivors get justice" 
- Brian Kent, Esq.

Sexual Assault In The Doctor's Office

Were you or a loved one sexually assaulted by a doctor, nurse or other medical professionals? We believe your experience. We believe in you. Our experienced attorneys can help you step forward and fight back with confidence. No one should have to go through the horrible pain that many sexual abuse survivors experience every day. You are not alone, and you don't need to be afraid. We will vigorously prosecute your case to hold them accountable. Submit a complaint to your state's medical licensing board, skip to find your state.

It's a deeply-disgusting trend that our experienced attorneys have watched develop over the last few decades. Sexual assault, without a doubt, is the gravest and most troubling violation of the duty that doctors owe to their patients. It's a deep violation of trust and safety. We defer to doctors for their expertise, relying on their expert judgment to treat and heal, not abuse and harm.

Inside the doctor's office, a space of confidentiality, we divulge things we would never tell anyone else, laying our lives bare in search of the best treatments and trusting our doctors to use their power for good. But that's not always what happens. Across the nation, doctors routinely abuse their privileged position of power to assault their patients, subjecting them to unnecessary and invasive "physical exams" - or worse. This abuse can also happen within hospitals by medical professionals or other hospital employees. Read more about hospital sexual abuse lawsuits.

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Doctor Sexual Abuse Lawyer: Civil Litigation Empowers Survivors

Most physicians just don't want to face up to the facts, so they hide them. Civil litigation, on the other hand, is a fair and transparent process. Survivors get their day in court. And abusive physicians are forced to answer for their actions in the public record.

In some cases, a successful civil lawsuit even triggers disciplinary action against a doctor, as medical licensing boards catch up to the civil courts.

For all these reasons and more, we believe that pursuing civil litigation is an important step in the fight against sexual predators. No one should be allowed to use their privileged position of power to harm others. No doctor who abuses his or her patients should be allowed to continue violating patients. Filing a civil lawsuit is often the first step in ensuring that patients in the future are treated with respect and dignity.

Physicians Abuse Position Of Power

Some doctors even "groom" their patients, using physical examinations, and the intimate physical contact that an examination entails, to prepare their patients for deeply-invasive violations, from fondling and kissing to sexual intercourse. Psychiatrists use the intimacy of therapy sessions to seduce - or coerce - patients into romantic relationships.

Anesthesiologists put their patients under, then abuse them while they are insensible. In the examination room, physicians expose themselves in front of patients, inappropriately touch them and make sexually-explicit comments.

Sexual Abuse & Harassment: A Legal & Ethical Violation

These cases are all real and, if you have experienced similar misconduct, we believe you. There is no legitimate excuse for this form of misconduct. Due to the power imbalance between a doctor and his or her patients, sexual activity is always ethically questionable. Several states have made it illegal, a criminal offense, even in cases when the patient consents to the relationship. In many cases, sexual conduct of any sort can be the basis for a medical malpractice lawsuit. Physicians have a legal duty to maintain a professional working relationship with their patients. Obviously, sexual misconduct is outside the bounds of a professional relationship.

Signs Of Inappropriate Sexual Behavior

The Federation of State Medical Boards is a good place to start on this topic. Representing 70 state medical and osteopathic licensing boards across the nation, the FSMB is a nationally-recognized non-profit assisting medical boards in the discipline and regulation of physicians.

In its 2006 report, "Addressing Sexual Boundaries," the FSMB defines two categories of sexual misconduct in the examination room: sexual impropriety and sexual violation. Both types of misconduct exploit the patient-physician relationship in a sexual manner. Sexual misconduct can be either verbal or physical, the FSMB notes, ranging from a sexually-suggestive comment to outright rape. Both ends of this extreme can form the basis for a disciplinary action or malpractice lawsuit.

Sexual Impropriety

The category of sexual impropriety includes behavior and statements that are sexually-suggestive, fail to respect patient privacy or are sexually-demeaning. In many cases, we would consider sexual impropriety to be a form of sexual harassment, stopping short of sexual assault.

  • watching a patient undress or get dressed
  • failing to provide draping or gowns
  • not respecting the privacy of patients as they dress or disrobe
  • touching genital areas without wearing gloves
  • making inappropriate comments about the patient, or to the patient, including sexual comments about the patient's body or underwear
  • criticizing a patient's sexual orientation
  • making comments about potential sexual performance during an examination
  • using the examination to request a date or romantic relationship
  • starting a conversation about the physician's own sexual problems or preferences
  • performing an intimate examination without clinical justification (for example, performing a vaginal examination during a visit about a sore throat)
  • asking for details of a patient's sexual history or preferences without a clinical justification

If you are uncomfortable with a situation as it's developing, ask your doctor for a clinical justification of the procedure. Ask your doctor why he or she is performing the examination.

Withdrawing Consent

You have every right to deny or withdraw your consent to a particular examination if you feel it's outside of bounds. Once you have withdrawn your consent, it would be a deep violation of medical ethics for your doctor to go through with the examination against your wishes. You are in control of your medical care.

Patient Consent Is No Defense

That's true even if the patient consented to the sexual relationship; any and all sexual conduct is considered malpractice in a court of law. This is an ethical line that physicians are not allowed to cross. Every physician is fully aware that sexual activity should never occur with a patient.

Just like doctors, hospitals have a legal duty to protect patients from harm. While most of us believe that a hospital's duty begins and ends with medical care, it actually extends to cover instances of sexual assault and abuse. Hospitals and medical clinics should do their utmost to ensure that patients are receiving the most-professional medical care possible.

Sexual Violation

Sexual violation includes physical contact of a sexual nature, or physical contact that could be reasonably construed as having a sexual or erotic purpose.

  • sexual intercourse
  • genital to genital contact
  • oral to genital contact
  • oral to anal contact
  • genital to anal contact
  • kissing
  • touching breasts, genitals or any other sexualized body part for any purpose other than appropriate examination or treatment
  • sexualized touching when the patient has refused or withdrawn consent
  • encouraging a patient to masturbate
  • masturbating while a patient is present
  • offering to provide drugs in exchange for sexual favors

Needless to say, any form of sexual violation is an intense and disgusting violation of medical ethics.

Doctors are bound by law and ethics to provide medical care with the utmost professionalism. Because the doctor-patient relationship is steeped in a power imbalance, any form of sexual conduct can be construed as misconduct, a violation of the patient-physician relationship. In short, any form of sexually-suggestive conduct could be an instance of medical malpractice, because both sexual violation and sexual impropriety represent violations of the doctor-patient relationship. Nothing of a sexual nature should be happening inside the examination room, plain and simple.

Top 3 Ways To Report Sexual Misconduct

Reporting sexual assault is extraordinarily important. It's the only way that abusive doctors will ever face justice. It's the only way that medical licensing boards have a hope of getting dangerous sexual predators out of the examination room. And it can be deeply empowering for you, as a sexual abuse survivor, to confront what happened and pursue justice.

Sexual assault and rape can be reported to your local police department or sheriff's office. You can also take your concerns to the medical clinic or hospital where your doctor works. Most medical facilities have a formalized office to handle sexual assault complaints and misconduct.

The National Sexual Assault Hotline is also here to help. Calling the hotline is easy; just dial 1-800-656-4673 to speak with a qualified professional today. After explaining your problem, their professional rape crisis service providers can help connect you to law enforcement officials to report the sexual misconduct and help you find other resources, including medical care.

Reporting Improper Doctor Conduct

After being violated by a doctor, many survivors fear stepping forward to make a complaint. Some believe that no one will take them seriously, especially if the complaint is being made against a respected physician with years of experience. Others fear being victim-shamed. Still others believe that they did something wrong to deserve the abuse they suffered.

You are not alone. There are people out there who will believe your story. There are people here, in our firm, who want to fight for your justice. You did not deserve for this to happen. Most medical facilities have a formalized office to handle sexual assault complaints and misconduct. The National Sexual Assault Hotline is also here to help. Calling the hotline is easy; just dial 1-800-656-4673 to speak with a qualified professional today. After explaining your problem, their professional rape crisis service providers can help connect you to law enforcement officials to report the sexual misconduct and help you find other resources, including medical care.

Why Aren't Abusive Doctors Punished?

Yet year after year, we hear stories of hospitals and universities that fail to do so. Doctors with a history of abusing patients are re-hired at new clinics without adequate background checks. Anesthesiologists with known problems are left alone with patients - just because no one has the bravery to stand up and do the right thing.

Co-workers stay silent, fearing retaliation and professional exile. Hospitals conceal reports of sexual misconduct, hoping to avoid public criticism and professional censure. Physicians are allowed to retire from their positions quietly, without a report to the police, or escape past misconduct by slipping over state lines and setting up a new practice. And victims, who have been violated in an unconscionable way, often fear stepping forward, believing that no one will believe their word over that of a doctor. We believe you.

Sexual Assault Widespread In Medical Field, Investigation Finds

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has performed invaluable work in chronicling these cases, bringing horrendous cases of doctor sexual abuse to light.

65-year-old Dr. Philip Leonard is still allowed to practice out of his Austin, Texas neurology clinic, even after being accused of sexual misconduct by 17 different women. Leonard was censured in 2004, but the restriction on his practice - that he would only see male patients for 10 years - ended in 2014.

In a series of new civil lawsuits, Dr. George Tyndall, a former gynecologist at the University of Southern California, is accused of being a "serial sexual predator." At least nine women say they were sexually abused by Tyndall, now retired, during physical examinations at the school. USC "actively and deliberately" hid the pattern of assault from law enforcement professionals and the university community, the suits claim.

Today, Dr. Jacob Ward is practicing in the suburbs of Atlanta, but in 2011, he was arrested and convicted for molesting a female patient during a physical examination. Two prior allegations against Ward were never communicated to patients, because the medical board chose to send him a confidential letter explaining its "concern" about his conduct, rather than censure him publicly.

But what the paper discovered is even more shocking.

States Fail To Discipline Doctors After Sex Abuse Complaints

The Journal-Constitution's investigation began in Georgia, where 2 out of every 3 doctors disciplined for sexual misconduct were allowed to continue practicing. It's 3 out of 4 in Alabama, and 4 out of 5 in Minnesota.

Digging further, the paper found that physician sexual abuse is widely unacknowledged, even within the medical field. Doctors just don't want to address the fact that sexual assault can, and does, occur in the examination room.

Misconduct "Tolerated" Among Physicians

Even worse, sexual abuse, the reporters write, is "tolerated" in every state of the nation, where medical licensing boards, staffed by physicians, frequently hide sexual misconduct reports in "vague" language or handle assault reports behind closed doors. Only 11 states require medical facilities to report sexual assault complaints to the police when they involve an adult patient.

In many states, doctors are allowed to retain their medical licenses, even after a sexual assault compliant has been investigated and confirmed. In a review of the records of 2,400 physicians who were publicly disciplined for sexual misconduct across the nation, the Journal-Constitution learned that half had retained their medical licenses and were still allowed to practice.

Docs Get Treatment, Not Jail Time

Doctors who abuse their patients, even those who rape, are treated as deviant personalities who require treatment and rehabilitation, not criminal prosecution. Therapy centers take disciplined doctors through equine therapy, yoga and art classes. Some physicians attend "boundary" classes at local community colleges. Then, the doctors are cleared to practice again.

Medical Boards Hide Proceedings Behind Closed Doors

Medical boards often handle sexual abuse complaints in secret, fearful that a public investigation will lead to the unintended consequence of fewer reports. Some doctors have been receiving private and confidential warnings from their medical licensing board for years, all while the physician is allowed to practice medicine as if nothing untoward has happened. To these authorities, it's a matter of protecting the physician's reputation, rather than protecting patients. "This tendency on the part of medical boards and medical officials to err on the side of quiet suspension or a secret, out-of-court deal, that's a recipe for disaster," says David Clohessy, executive director at SNAP, a national advocacy center for victims of sexual abuse. "Secrecy is the enemy," Clohessy continued. "Crimes are crimes, no matter who commits them. They need to be reported to and investigated by and prosecuted by the independent professionals in law enforcement. Period. Not a panel of your peers, not by some committee of supervisors and not by other people who have earned the same titles you have earned."

A Deep Violation Of Medical Ethics

Sexual assault is a deep violation of medical ethics. Some states have even made it against the law for a doctor to have a sexual relationship with a patient, whether or not the patient consents. Even in states where it's not explicitly illegal, sexual misconduct is against the "code" of the medical profession.

Medical authorities around the world acknowledge this fact. The American Medical Association states this principle very clearly, writing that "sexual contact that occurs concurrent with the patient-physician relationship constitutes sexual misconduct."

Thus any form of sexual contact, whether consensual or nonconsensual, should be considered misconduct, a violation of the physician's ethical code.

Power Dynamics & Coercion

There is a strong and irresolvable power dynamic between doctors and their patients. We turn to doctors with trust in our hearts. We go to them to keep us healthy, or heal us when we are ill. We trust in their judgment in matters of life and death.

And we place a great deal of stock in their credentials and experience. In this context, there is no excuse for beginning a sexual relationship with a patient, let alone propositioning, harassing or assaulting him or her.

It is inexcusable, even when the patient appears to have consented to the sexual conduct. Strong power dynamics often erode our capacity to provide consent. As the American Medical Association writes, "sexual harassment exploits inequalities in status and power [and] abuses the rights and trust of those who are subjected to such conduct." Doctor sexual assault is coercion, plain and simple.

Sexual Conduct Between Patients & Doctors Is Malpractice

Doctors owe us a duty of care. They owe us the duty to provide medical care by following the standards established in the field. When they violate this duty, exploiting our trust to commit atrocities, it's malpractice. The prohibition against sexual contact within the medical field is well-established and universally agreed-upon. It's not a matter of debate.

As such, there can be little doubt that doctors who violate their code by maintaining any form of sexual contact with a patient (whether through unwelcome sexual advances, requesting sexual favors, bargaining for sex through the offering of drugs or outright sexual assault) have committed malpractice and can be held accountable in a civil lawsuit.

Are All Doctor Sex Assault Lawsuits Filed As Malpractice Suits?

No.

Some are filed on the tort theory of assault and battery. Assault and battery, in the area of civil law, are actually two separate offenses committed against a person. Assault is the act of intentionally making another person fear an imminent and harmful contact. Battery is making good on that threat, actually coming into contact with the person in a harmful and nonconsensual manner.

The important thing to note now, however, is that assault and battery are torts of intent, offenses that carry some level of intention on the part of the perpetrator. Some doctor sexual assault lawsuits, on the other hand, take the form of a malpractice claim. These are claims of negligence, and require proof of a careless disregard for the safety and wellbeing of others. Often, attorneys choose to file a malpractice suit under these circumstances because the doctor's defense team is expected to treat the claim as a malpractice claim.

It also makes pairing multiple claims against multiple defendants easier. Many of these civil cases aren't just filed against the doctor who assaulted a patient. Claims can also be filed against the hospital or medical clinic where the doctor worked, because medical facilities have a duty to supervise their physician-employees adequately. These cases, based on the theory of negligence, are likely to be treated as malpractice claims. Your attorney will craft the best strategy for your own claim.

Can I File A Lawsuit Against My Doctor?

Yes.

Many sexual assault survivors take the courageous step of filing a personal injury lawsuit against the doctor who abused them. Needless to say, this is a deeply personal choice that can be extremely painful. Many victims are understandably fearful that, if the facts of their case again come to light, they will be victimized all over again.

It would be a lie to say that preparing and pursuing a lawsuit is a process free of pain, but we've also seen how much good filing a lawsuit can do in a survivor's life. It can be an empowering experience, one that allows survivors the opportunity to take control of this terrible situation. Legal action is also often the only way that abusive doctors and their employers will ever be punished.

Forcing Doctors To Face Justice

We've already documented the lax regulations that allow dangerous sexual predators to remain in practice long after they should have been disbarred from the field of medicine. Staffed by their peers, medical licensing boards often "go easy" on doctors who abuse their patients, giving them a light slap on the wrists when jail time is more appropriate.

Some medical boards even hide allegations of sexual misconduct from the public, allowing doctors who have committed horrendous crimes to broker backroom deals instead of facing the harsh light of criticism.

Can I File A Lawsuit Against The Clinic?

Very likely.

As we've already mentioned, every medical clinic in the country has a legal obligation to ensure that patients are being treated with care and respect. Every medical clinic should have strong policies in place to screen out dangerous doctors from the hiring process and properly supervise a physician's conduct as he or she works.

Thorough background checks should be performed for each doctor and, ideally, renewed on an annual or bi-annual basis. Hospitals should also make a thorough review of malpractice complaints that have been filed against the doctor, and check-in with the state's medical licensing board to identify any disciplinary action that has been taken against the physician in the past.

Obviously, there are many ways a hospital or medical clinic can ensure they are hiring only professional doctors with clean public records. At the same time, medical facilities should do their utmost to investigate sexual assault complaints after they arise.

Barriers To Reporting

In most states, victims of sexual assault will have to report the crime to the appropriate authorities themselves, which can be difficult.

Many assault survivors fear that they will not be believed, or worse, will be victim-shamed, especially going up against a "trusted" medical professional. Other victims struggle with feelings of shame and embarrassment, believing that they did something wrong and somehow deserved their mistreatment.

You did not bring this on your self. You are not at fault. This is not your fault; you were victimized by someone you trusted to help you. There is no question of who the aggressor is in this situation. You were wronged, and reporting the abuse to the police is the right thing to do.

Why You Should Consider Reporting The Assault To The Police

Outside of filing a civil lawsuit, reporting the crime to the police is the only way to see justice done. And since around two-thirds of doctors who are reported for sexual misconduct are never disciplined by medical licensing boards, it's often the only way that physicians who abuse their position of power will ever face consequences for their actions.

Reporting the crime can also serve to light the way for other survivors. When one person steps forward, more victims tend to follow. That's a very important and powerful thing to do since as we've seen so often, many of these physicians have multiple victims. It's not uncommon for the police to learn about one sexual assault report, only to be inundated later by a number of other complaints against the same doctor. But it takes that first courageous individual to start the process.

Submitting A Doctor Sexual Abuse Complaint To Your State's Medical Licensing Board

Any form of sexual misconduct should also be reported to your state's medical licensing board. Many, but not all, states now have online systems that you can file a complaint through. Unfortunately, these systems are often complicated to find and difficult to use. Below, we've done the work for you. Click on your state in the links below to jump straight to the complaint reporting form for your jurisdiction:

States vary on maintaining complainant anonymity. Rhode Island, for example, provides complainants with the opportunity to remain anonymous. While the doctor in question will always be contacted about the complaint, your personal information, if you so choose, will not be released to them. Other states cannot guarantee anonymity.

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AbuseGuardian.com is primarily sponsored by Brian D. Kent, Esq. Mr. Kent is licensed to practice law in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Illinois. Content regarding these states has been reviewed by Mr. Kent. Content pertaining to all other states will identify the local lawyer who is part of the Abuse Guardian alliance that is responsible for that content. Abuse Guardian is an alliance of attorneys across the United States who dedicate their professional careers to representing survivors of sexual abuse and helping them get justice. This website is to be considered ATTORNEY ADVERTISING. Past settlement and verdict values are no guarantee of simlar future outcomes.Abuse Guardian is not a law firm. Abuse Guardian has a team of survivor advocates who can help connect sexual abuse survivors to members of the Abuse Guardian alliance for free legal consultations.

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