A broken system forgives sexually abusive doctors in every state, investigation finds
In each of these cases, described in public records, the doctors either acknowledged what they’d done or authorities, after investigating, believed the accusations. While the scale and scope of the physicians’ misdeeds varied tremendously, all were allowed to keep their white coats and continue seeing patients, as were hundreds of others like them across the nation.
In a national investigation, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution examined documents that described disturbing acts of physician sexual abuse in every state. Rapes by OB/GYNs, seductions by psychiatrists, fondling by anesthesiologists and ophthalmologists, and molestations by pediatricians and radiologists.
Victims were babies. Adolescents. Women in their 80s. Drug addicts and jail inmates. Survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
But it could be anyone. Some patients were sedated when they were sexually assaulted. Others didn’t realize at first what had happened because the doctor improperly touched them or photographed them while pretending to do a legitimate medical exam.
Some doctors were disciplined over a single episode of sexual misconduct. A few physicians — with hundreds of victims — are among the nation’s worst sex offenders. But the toll can’t be measured by numbers alone. For patients, the violations can be life-altering. The betrayal even pushed some to suicide.
How do doctors get away with exploiting patients for years? [...]
Some victims say nothing. Intimidated, confused or embarrassed, they fear that no one will take their word over a doctor’s. Colleagues and nurses stay silent.
Hospitals and health care organizations brush off accusations or quietly push doctors out, the investigation found, without reporting them to police or licensing agencies.[...]
But when a physician is the perpetrator, the AJC found, the nation often looks the other way.
Physician-dominated medical boards gave offenders second chances. Prosecutors dismissed or reduced charges, so doctors could keep practicing and stay off sex offender registries. Communities rallied around them.[...]
The Roman Catholic Church, the military, the Boy Scouts, colleges and universities. They have all withered under the spotlight of sexual misconduct scandals and promised that abuse will no longer be swept under the rug.
The medical profession, however, has never taken on sexual misconduct as a significant priority. And layer upon layer of secrecy makes it nearly impossible for the public, or even the medical community itself, to know the extent of physician sexual abuse.[...]
Today, after months of unearthing rarely viewed documents and tracking some cases from beginning to end, the AJC is exposing a phenomenon of physician sexual misconduct that is tolerated — to one degree or another — in every state in the nation.[...]
Yet many, if not most, cases of physician sexual misconduct remain hidden. The AJC investigation discovered that state boards and hospitals handle some cases secretly. In other cases, medical boards remove once-public orders from their websites or issue documents that cloak sexual misconduct in vague language.
When cases do come to the public’s attention, they are often brushed off by the medical establishment as freakishly rare. While the vast majority of the nation’s 900,000 doctors do not sexually abuse patients, the AJC found the phenomenon is akin to the priest scandal: It doesn’t necessarily happen every day, but it happens far more often than anyone has acknowledged.[...]
Over and over again, records show, predatory physicians took advantage of a doctor’s special privilege — the daily practice of asking trusting people to disrobe in a private room and permit themselves to be touched.
Offenses ranged from lewd comments during intimate exams to molestation, masturbation by the doctor in front of the patient, swapping drugs for sex and even rape. Because many orders are vague or undetailed, it isn’t always clear if a doctor claimed the patient consented. However, the profession says consent is never a defense because of the power imbalance between doctors and patients.
David Clohessy, the executive director of SNAP, a support and advocacy organization for people sexually abused by priests, doctors and others, said many Americans view physicians with too much deference and automatic respect.
“We are so reliant on them, we are so helpless and vulnerable and literally in pain often times when we go in there. We just have to trust them,” Clohessy said.
“So when they cross the boundary and their hands go into the wrong places, we are in shock, we are paralyzed, we’re confused, we’re scared. We just do not want to believe, first of all, that a doctor is capable of this , and secondly that their colleagues and supervisors will not address this immediately and effectively when we report it.”[...]