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Physician Sexual Abuse

When public opinion pollsters survey our attitudes towards professionals, doctors are routinely listed as among the most trusted members of society. It’s easy to understand why. We visit them regularly to ensure we stay healthy. If we do become sick, we ask them to diagnose what might be wrong and provide treatment to cure what’s ailing us, or at least help us to manage our symptoms. When we rely on a professional for our health and well-being, we want to be able to trust them completely.

Physicians are human and they can make mistakes when it comes to our health care. But even then, there’s a certain comfort in knowing that these errors and the harm they may cause are likely not intentional. The same cannot be said when a physician commits a sexual assault against a patient. These actions, occurring at a time when we may be at our most vulnerable, can be devastating. A breach of trust that cuts to the very core of a victim may cause severe physical, psychological and emotional pain and suffering.

Sometimes, due to the dynamic of the relationship between a doctor and patient, a person may not realize immediately that they have become a victim of sexual violence. Since physical contact is often necessary as doctor’s exam and assess their patients, the line between appropriate contact and behaviours that are sexual in nature can be blurred. Whether you are certain a sexual assault has been committed, or simply feel uneasy or unsure about an interaction that occurred, contacting a lawyer with experience in these types of cases for a confidential no cost, no obligation consultation can help you understand your rights and options.

Examples of sexual assaults by physicians.

To understand when a boundary has been crossed between a physician and patient, we must consider inappropriate behaviour and actions. If a physician engages in any sexual impropriety, such as seductive or sexually suggestive gestures or expressions, disrespects a patient’s privacy, or demeans a patient, an important boundary has been crossed. Even if there is no outwardly sexual conduct, there is potential for a sexual assault. For example, if a doctor performs unnecessary examinations or intentionally fails to wear gloves during an examination, this could be considered physician sexual assault.

Beyond misbehaviours and improper actions during examinations, physician sexual assaults can occur by doctors who engage in voyeurism. There have been cases of physicians who have installed video cameras or otherwise surreptitiously viewed patients in exam rooms for sexual gratification. These patients would have had the expectation of privacy if no other person was in the room at the time.

Some physicians have also used the doctor-patient power imbalance to commit sexual assaults outside of the examination room. For example, people with addictions to opiates or other drugs have been coerced into sexual activities in exchange for prescriptions for these medications. In other cases, doctors may play on the fears of patients that they will withhold care if they do not accede to their sexual advances.

Protecting yourself and your loved ones.

If you or a loved one has been sexually assaulted or sexually abused by a physician, you are in no way to blame for what happened to you. Nor should you feel any guilt for putting your trust in your doctor. It is unfortunate and unfair to think that patients should feel the need to proactively protect themselves from incidents that should never take place.

Both patient advocates and medical professionals have promoted the idea of having a nurse accompany the doctor during examinations. Not only does having another person in the room reduce the likelihood that a sexual assault will occur, but it provides a witness to any improper actions that do take place. Although false reports of a physician sexual assault are extremely rare, a doctor may also take comfort in knowing they would have a witness if they were unfairly accused of impropriety.

With limited resources, having a nurse participate in all examinations may be impossible in most offices. If your physician is not able to ask a nurse to join them in the exam room, you can request that you be able to bring a trusted person with you.

Reporting the sexual assault.

Physician sexual assault is widely unreported. Not only are victims often in shock or disbelief that such an assault could happen; they may be fearful that they won’t be believed if they tell others about what happened or attempt to bring a sexual assaults charge. Other times, victims may incorrectly believe that since they consented to a physical exam with their doctor, any action that occurred during that exam, or even the exam itself, is appropriate. Unlike other alleged sex crimes, consent does not provide a defence for a doctor who engages in sexual relations with a patient. In Ontario, all sexual relations between a doctor and patient are prohibited, whether or not those relations are consensual. 

Deciding whether to report a physician sexual assault can be a very difficult decision for victims. They may fear reprisals, feel shame for what occurred, or worry that they may be retraumatized in talking about the assault.

Gluckstein Personal Injury Lawyers understands what a huge step it is to come forward. When you contact our physician sexual abuse lawyers you can be assured we will give you the respect, compassion and confidentiality you need and deserve. We will explain your rights and the variety of options you have as you seek justice.

If you choose to report the incident to the police, they will conduct an independent investigation and decide whether to lay criminal charges against the doctor. Unfortunately, since the burden of proof for a finding of guilt in criminal cases requires evidence to establish the crime “beyond a reasonable doubt,” studies show that less than half of sexual assault cases in adult criminal court are successful. However, a guilty verdict means a victim will automatically be eligible to receive compensation and damages in a civil lawsuit.

Police will notify the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) of their investigation. However, if you decide not to go to the police with your allegations, you can still launch a complaint to the CPSO. This organization regulates the practice of medicine in Ontario, and all practising physicians must be members. Based on the Regulated Health Professions Act (RHPA) and the Health Professions Procedural Code under the RHPA and the Medicine Act, the CPSO establishes standards and policies for practice.

Penalties for contraventions and non-compliance of these standards are meted out by the CPSO Discipline Committee. If a hearing determines that there is merit in a patient’s sexual assault complaint, the Committee may temporarily or indefinitely suspend a physician’s ability to practice medicine. The burden of proof in these hearings is lower than in criminal cases.

If you were sexually assaulted by a medical professional who works in a hospital, medical facility or other type of institution, you also have the option of making a complaint directly to their employer. Since these institutions can be exposed to liability in these situations, they have an interest in taking these reports seriously. If these facilities investigate an accusation and learn that they may have failed in their responsibility to provide patients with a safe environment, they could terminate the physician’s employment. 

A civil lawsuit.

Beyond criminal charges or professional sanctions, victims of physician sexual assault also have the option of suing their doctors directly in a tort action. In these lawsuits, a plaintiff (the sexual assault victim) can seek compensation for damages they suffered as a result of the physician’s actions.

Pecuniary damages (calculable damages such as medical expenses or loss of income during recovery and treatment) and non-pecuniary damages (for incalculable losses such as pain and suffering) can provide the plaintiff with financial compensation to help the recover some of what they’ve lost, and to move forward with their lives after the traumatic experience.

Although some tort actions name a single defendant (the physician), if there is evidence that another person’s or institution’s actions or inaction caused or contributed to the circumstances surrounding the sexual assault, they may be liable for damages. Not only can naming these parties open up additional resources to compensate you, but it can spur institutional change that will make it less likely that a terrible assault could happen to another person.

We can help.

If you or a loved one has been abused by a physician you do not have to stay a victim. By taking steps to recover from this traumatic experience you become a survivor. Choosing what path you want to take in your recovery is deeply personal and often difficult. You should know that the physician sexual assault lawyers at Gluckstein Personal Injury Lawyers is here to help.

When you contact us for a confidential no cost, no obligation consultation, we will receive you with the compassion, kindness and the attentive care you need and deserve. With our commitment to full-circle client care, you can be sure that we will always see you as much more than just a case. We want to be there for you to support you in any way we can. 

Our experienced, knowledgeable and skilled team has a proven record for results for clients bringing forward physician sexual assault complaints and lawsuits. As your trusted personal injury lawyers, we will fiercely advocate for your best interests and always respect your choices and decisions.

If you or a loved one has suffered this kind of terrible indignity at the hands of a physician and you are ready to learn more about what can be done, contact us today.

Ontario Physician Sexual Assault Lawyers.

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