Sexual Abuse By Doctors
Google analytics tells me that the section of my blog is devoted to addressing the topic of Doctor Sexual Abuse tends to be the most frequently read of all the articles I have posted over the six years I have been writing this blog.
What that tells me is that there are a lot of people out there searching for information about this issue.
Common Cause for Discipline
Sexual abuse of patients is one of the most frequent reasons for discipline of doctors by the various provincial authorities that regulate doctors.
According to a recent CBC news report, Since 2007, over 125 doctors have been disciplined in Ontario alone for sexual comments or actions against their patients.
There are currently 22 abuse allegations being investigated by the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons.
It is a problem that stretches across the country.
For example a quick google search for results over the last six months show reports from Nova Scotia where the College of Physicians and Surgeons reprimanded Dr. Bolarinwa Oluwole for having sexual relations with patients, Ottawa: Doctor faces sexual abuse allegations and Alberta :Aubrey Levin, Psychiatrist Accused Of Molesting Patients
So why is it we haven't been hearing more about it in the media?
I think there are three reasons.
Needle in a Haystack?
First, statistics about the actual number of disciplinary charges are difficult to find. Each province has it's own College of Physicians and Surgeons that deals with disciplinary matters and there is no national registry of complaints or disciplinary decisions.
So persons investigating the issue have to search through all of the various provincial databases.
Doctors Can Avoid Hearings
Another reason is that the provincial Colleges only have jurisdiction over licensed physicians. So if a doctor resigns his or her license to practice, the disciplinary hearing is withdrawn.
Edward Hollett, a spokesperson for The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Newfoundland and Labrador, confirmed as well that Dr. Kadhem has voluntarily withdrawn from practice.
Having worked with survivors of sexual abuse for 20 years now, I expect the third reason why victims of sexual abuse by doctors do not come forward is that they feel re-victimized by the process of handling the abuse complaint.
The focus on disciplining doctors (rather than addressing the harm to victims) can make the abuse survivor feel as though they are not the priority.
In the CBC story I referred to, one woman said that she felt re-victimized by the process. She alleged there were two incidents of sexual abuse by her doctor in 2002. At the end of the process the Doctor was issued a one-year suspension which he served and is now practicing again.
Trust and Authority
Doctors owe a fiduciary duty to their patients. A "fiduciary" is someone who is a position of trust and authority over another person. They have an obligation not to abuse that trust.
Doctors are obviously in a position of trust. They are frequently dealing with patients when they are most vulnerable. Doctors who have breached this position of trust should certainly be reprimanded – without the victims feeling re-victimized.
Doctor Sexual Abuse: What is it?
Sexual abuse is defined in the Ontario Health Protections Act as:
• Sexual intercourse, or other forms of sexual relations between doctor and patient;
• A doctor touching a patient in a sexual manner; or
• Behaviour or remarks of a sexual nature by a doctor towards a patient.
Breaking the Silence
Sexual abuse is a crime of secrecy. It is only by speaking out, that victims of abuse can become survivors of abuse and can prevent the same thing from happening to others.
You can look here for more information about filing a complaint with the College of Physicians and Surgeons.
If you want more information about your legal options you can read my public legal education guide Breaking the Silence: The Survivor's Guide to Abuse Compensation Claims. The book is available on Amazon, but you can get a free copy but contacting me through my website.