Few relationships are as deeply personal and sensitive as that between a doctor and patient. We trust physicians and medical institutions not only for their knowledge, expertise, and skill but also for their professionalism, discretion, and ethics. We share our most private information with them and allow them to touch us and engage in physical contact so they can perform their jobs.
But consenting to a vaginal exam by a gynecologist does not equal consent to gratuitous and unnecessary touching. Sharing personal details with a psychologist or therapist is not an invitation for intimacy or a sexual relationship. And undergoing anesthesia is not granting permission to a surgeon or others to physically assault you.
These are just a few ways that medical professionals can abuse their power and authority and engage in the sexual abuse of patients. While the true extent of sexual misconduct by physicians is hard to gauge, largely because many victims are reluctant to come forward, a 2016 Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation identified over 2,400 cases of physicians across the U.S. who had sexually assaulted their patients. The investigation found that half of these doctors were still licensed to practice medicine. One pediatrician assaulted as many as 1,000 young patients before being sent to prison.
Such betrayal by respected and trusted healthcare professionals and the physical violation of sexual misconduct can cause a lifetime of psychological and emotional scars. Patients assaulted by physicians and others in a medical setting may blame themselves for “allowing” such abuse to happen or obsess over what they should have done to stop it. They may feel shame and confusion or lose their ability to trust others altogether, impacting their personal and professional relationships for decades to come. Some may turn to substance abuse, self-harm, or struggle with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other mental health challenges.
Betrayal Upon Betrayal for Sex Abuse Survivors
Tragically, the trauma caused by a physician’s sexual abuse is often compounded by the response, or lack thereof, of the hospitals and other medical institutions to whom these acts are reported. Accusers’ supervisors or colleagues may cast doubt on a patient’s claims, fail to investigate the allegations, or attack the victim, to protect the doctor’s career and shield themselves and their organization from accountability. Even state medical boards, which are supposed to police the profession and protect patients, often fail to take disciplinary action against predatory doctors and allow them to continue practicing without even a slap on the wrist.
Whether one calls it “circling the wagons” or “gaslighting,” these tactics only inflict further harm on the patient and can be as much a betrayal as the original act of sexual abuse. That is why so many victims are reluctant to come forward and report sexual assaults and violations by physicians.
Empowerment Through Accountability
Even if the medical profession or criminal justice system fails to hold a physician accountable for sexual abuse, victims have the power to do so. A patient who suffered sexual assault or other misconduct by a doctor can file a lawsuit against them and against a medical institution that may have allowed or facilitated the abuse.
While it takes extraordinary courage to stand up to an abuser and confront them for their betrayal, obtaining a judgment for compensation against them and making them face other consequences for their actions can provide victims with a sense of empowerment, healing, closure, and justice.
How Doctors Prey on Vulnerable Patients
Some ways medical professionals engage in the sexual abuse of patients include:
- Using chemical or physical restraints to keep patients from moving.
- Sexually abusing a patient while they are under anesthesia.
- Engaging in acts of self-gratification in the presence of their patients.
- Conducting unwarranted vaginal examinations.
- Exposing themselves in a sexually suggestive manner to patients.
- Making sexual or lewd remarks that make the patient feel uncomfortable.
- Attempting to seduce the patient.
- Forcefully engaging in a sexual relationship with a patient.
Berman & Simmons Can Help You Move Forward
At Berman & Simmons, provide compassionate counsel for individuals of all ages who suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a medical professional. We are the regional leader in sexual abuse cases and work nationally with other law firms to guide clients through what can be an extremely difficult and stressful process. Our lawyers specialize in working with survivors of sexual abuse and will assist you in a way that acknowledges the difficulty of discussing your experiences. With empathy, respect, patience, and a steadfast dedication to your well-being, we will listen and guide you through every step of the process. Our lawyers are committed to maintaining confidentiality, respecting personal boundaries, and standing up against those who abused their power to take advantage of vulnerable patients.
If you suffered sexual abuse by a medical professional and are ready to speak with one of our Maine sexual abuse attorneys and learn more about your rights, please contact us to arrange a free, confidential initial consultation.