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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.
Sexual Assault In The Doctor's Office
Were you or a loved one sexually assaulted by a doctor, nurse or other medical professional? 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. We will vigorously prosecute your case to hold them accountable.
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.
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.
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.
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, the 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. 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 an 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."