Sexual Assault by a Doctor Is Never Acceptable
In light of the suicide of child molester and pediatrician, Dr. Melvin Levine, statistics and laws regarding sexual abuse by a doctor or a health care provider are reviewed here to shed some light for those that have been or are victims.
After decades of charges he was sexually abusing young male patients, a class-action lawsuit was brought against Dr. Levine the day before he killed himself with a gunshot to the forehead. For 40 years he had maintained that he was innocent. He was never convicted on any abuse charge, and never faced criminal charges.
This inexcusable behavior by a health care provider is particularly concerning because of the trust that children and adults place on professionals in the pediatric health care industry. The guilt and shame of the victim, and uncertainty concerning consequences often silences children and adults under the care of physicians, psychiatrists and psychotherapists.
Statistics on Sexual Abuse by Health Care Professionals
Below are a few facts from studies conducted to evaluate sexual abuse by doctors and other health care providers:
- A revealing survey done by Gartrell, Milliken, Goodson & Thiemann of physicians and patients have disclosed that sexual relations between physicians and adult patients involve approximately 10% of all medical specialists who care for adults.1
- A study of patients who got psychiatric or counseling care after a former health care provider performed sexual acts upon them found 51% of the care providers were clergy, and 49% were health care professionals.2 Of those health care professionals, 85% were from various counseling professions, 7.3% were physicians in medical specialties, and 3.7% were nurses.
- In Ontario, Canada, in the 80s, 25% of the health care providers who had been legally charged with patient sexual contact were psychiatrists. Surveys of psychiatrists revealed that 7% to 10% reported that they had had previous sexual contact with patients.3
- A Canadian task force on sexual abuse of patients found that patients younger than 14 years accounted for 8.7% of these reports, whereas 80% of patients subjected to sexual contact were adult women.4 Male providers were responsible for 91% of the sexual contacts. Among 567 physicians disciplined by their state medical disciplinary boards between 1989 and 1996 for sexually related offenses involving patients, pediatricians accounted for 14 disciplinary events (2.9%), although they represented 7.8% of all physicians.5
- Recent national data suggest that approximately 8% of American children experience sexual victimization in a given year,6 although significant under-reporting occurs.
Laws Regarding Sexual Abuse by Health Care Providers
Additionally to civil suits for cash damages and disciplinary proceedings resulting in license revocation, physicians who have sex with patients may susceptible to criminal prosecution, usually for rape or sexual assault. The principle impediment to criminal prosecution, however, has been the patient’s alleged consent to the sexual acts. Criminal prosecutions of physicians thus usually have been tied to cases in which the physician used force or drugs to incapacitate the patient.
Due to the difficulty that ‘consent’ brings, some states have enacted legislation making sexual abuse against patients a specific crime including statements that consent by the victim is not a defense. For example, in California, where this is a misdemeanor for “any person holding himself or herself out to be a psychotherapist” having any sexual contact with a patient or former patient, the statute specifically states that, “in no instance shall consent of the patient or client be a defense.” North Dakota’s criminal statute, which is similar to California’s, bars only sexual contact “during any treatment, consultation, interview, or examination,” also states that consent by the patient is not a defense.
Colorado’s Health Care Availability Act
In Colorado, the Health Care Availability Act specifically states that it applies to “any civil action for damages in tort (a civil wrong) brought against a health care professional.” Just to clarify, tort law deals with civil situations where a person’s behavior has unfairly caused someone else to suffer loss or harm. A tort is not necessarily an illegal act but causes harm and therefore the law allows anyone who is harmed to recover their loss.
In a case where a woman was alleged to have been sexually abused by a chiropractor, the Colorado Supreme Court held “a physician owes all examinees a duty not to assault them sexually, and would be liable for such conduct.” Slack v. Farmers Ins. Exchange, 5 P.3d 280 (Colo. 2000).
What to Do If You Are a Victim of Sexual Assault
James Avery of Avery Law Firm has 30 years of experience as a medical malpractice lawyer including decades of experience working within the framework of legislatively imposed damages caps. The firm is based in Denver, Colorado, with offices in Indiana, and New York. If you have been a victim of sexual assault from a physician or health care provider, James Avery can help you get the justice you deserve with little or no risk to you. Contact Avery Law Firm today toll-free at (866) 987-4368.
- Gartrell NK, Milliken N, Goodson WH III., Thiemann S, Lo B. Physician-patient sexual contact: prevalence and problems. West J Med. 1992;157(2):139–143
- Luepker ET. Effects of practitioners’ sexual misconduct: a follow-up study. J Am Acad Psychiatry Law. 1999;27(1):51–63
- Rapp MS. Sexual misconduct. CMAJ. 1987;137(3):193–194
- College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario. Final Report of the Task Force on Sexual Abuse of Patients. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario; 1991
- Dehlendorf CE, Wilfe SM. Physicians disciplined for sex-related offenses. JAMA. 1998;279(23):1883–1888
- Finkelhor D, Ormrod R, Turner H, Hamby SL. The victimization of children and youth: a comprehensive, national survey. Child Maltreat. 2005;10(1):5–25