Physician Sexual Assault: A Violation of Public Trust
Victims of a sexual assault often say they feel as though their bodies and sense of personal safety have been violated. If they know the person who committed the offence and had a pre-existing relationship with them, they may feel as through their trust has been violated. As a society, we place our public trust in professionals to serve and protect us. If one of these professionals commits a sexual assault – even if it does not involve us personally – we share a sense that the public’s trust has been violated.
In this blog, I discuss the various courses of action and recourse a patient has if (s)he has experienced sexual assault by a doctor. I will be referring to the case of Dr. Jeffrey Scott Sloka ("Sloka") as illustrative. A patient’s recourse may include making a complaint to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario ("the College"), which could ultimately result in professional sanctions for the doctor, including the loss of the license to practice medicine. The complainant may also go to the police and pursue a criminal charge. And, the patient may choose to sue the doctor in civil court for damages arising from the sexual assault.
The Sloka Case
Fifty-one-year-old former neurologist, Jeffrey Sloka, received his certificate from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario ("the College") in 2009 to practice medicine. As a physician, Sloka had been granted privileges at St. Mary's Hospital and Grand River Hospital in Kitchener, as well as at Guelph General Hospital. The College revoked Sloka's license in April 2019 after four patients filed complaints.
Sloka pleaded “no contest” to the allegations, which included the inappropriate touching of breasts, inappropriate comments toward a patient, and suggestions that the doctor had his patients inadequately dressed or naked. The plea of no contest is a way of accepting the facts as presented by the charging body, and the consequence of a finding of guilt, without however a formal guilty plea. This may be done to avoid the legal effect that a guilty plea may have in a related proceeding, such as a civil action.
College of Physician and Surgeons Disciplinary Action
According to the public register, restrictions were placed on Sloka's license in September 2017 as a result of professional misconduct towards patients under his care. At that time, the College required all patient encounters to take place in the presence of another regulated health professional. Furthermore, there was a requirement to post signage to advise patients of these practice restrictions.
Sloka faced non-criminal disciplinary action by the College after it received a total of four complaints from patients. On April 30, 2019, the College’s disciplinary committee revoked his license to practice medicine. Sloka agreed to never apply or reapply for registration as a physician in Ontario or any in other jurisdiction. He was also required to reimburse the College for assistance funding provided to patients under the program required under the Regulated Health Professions Act, 1991, S.O. 1991, c. 18, in the amount of $64,240.00.
The Criminal Case
While Sloka was still working as a neurologist in Kitchener, Waterloo Regional Police began a criminal investigation in January 2018. In September 2019, Sloka was charged with 34 separate counts of sexual assault. Records indicate that the alleged incidents with patients under his care occurred between January 2010 and February 2017. All the victims were reportedly women who ranged in age from 17 to 51.
The total number of charges against Jeffrey Sloka has since risen to sixty-nine. This case is one of the largest sexual assault investigations in Canadian history, with another 22 investigations still underway. A judge initially denied Sloka bail, but a new report indicates that Sloka was released on bail sometime at the end of March 2020 from Maplehurst Correctional Complex in Milton, with release restrictions.
Under his bail conditions, Sloka must live with his surety, stay in the residence unless with his surety or for medical, dental or legal appointments, notify police of any change in address, possess no weapons, and have no contact with the alleged victims. He is due back in court on June 1, 2020.
The Civil Lawsuit
When a doctor sexually abuses a patient, the implications are profound. Both the individual trust surrounding the patient-physician relationship, and the public trust in the medical profession at large, are seriously undermined. Cases involving medical specialists are especially traumatic because patients are often quite ill and desperate for help or treatment solutions. With their state of mind potentially compromised, there is an extreme power imbalance between these patients and their health professionals. Such patients can be highly vulnerable.
Since the civil system is based on principles supporting the recovery of damages suffered by the aggrieved or injured party, rather than on discipline or punishment for a crime committed against society as a whole, the remedy is financial compensation. Awards for damages can encompass the cost of past and future care, loss of past and future income, and compensation for pain and suffering caused by the assault. In terms of past and future care and loss of income, civil damage awards help victims recover money they have spent or will have to spend on costly psychological or physical treatment, as well as money they have lost due to their time away from work. Victims may also claim losses of the competitive advantage they otherwise have had in the market if not for a school or career disruption caused by the effects of the assault. Damages awards not only help the victim recover from the wrongs committed against them, by returning them, as much as money can, to the position they would have occupied if not for the harm caused (the very purpose of tort law); damage recoveries also help them regain a sense of control that aids in the healing process.
Acts of sexual violence rob a victim of dignity, autonomy and a sense of control over their own body and sexuality. Although the civil litigation process can be arduous and painful in itself, when a victim uses this opportunity to be compensated and to regain a sense of personal control, it can aid their healing and ultimate mental well-being enormously.
Gluckstein Lawyers is Helping Victims Find Closure
At Gluckstein Lawyers, we assist our clients as they navigate the civil litigation process. As a part of your support team, we guide you through the more complicated and technical parts of the process to help empower you to make decisions that will give you a sense of satisfaction and closure. Our commitment to full circle care ensures that you can count on us to be with you as you put this traumatic chapter of your life behind you and move forward confidently to reclaim your future. If you or a loved one has been mistreated by a physician, you do not have to take on this fight alone.
At Gluckstein, we treat our clients like family, and work to represent them with integrity and dignity. For any inquiries, please contact Jordan Assaraf at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 416.408.4252, ext. 280.
Missed our Physician Sexual Assault – What are a Victim’s Options article?
You can read it here. Jordan’s practice is devoted to all areas of Personal Injury litigation on behalf of plaintiffs, including product liability claims, class action and mass tort litigation, occupier’s liability claims, medical malpractice, motor vehicle accident claims and accident benefit claims.
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