Doctors are some of the most trusted members of society. In a 2021 Ipsos poll spanning 28 countries, 64%of respondents rated doctors as trustworthy.
Unfortunately, physicians can often take advantage of this trust by sexually assaulting, abusing, or harassing patients when they are most vulnerable. Read on to learn more about sexual assault by doctors and what you can do if you were sexually assaulted by a medical professional or doctor.
What is considered sexual assault by a doctor?
Since examinations regularly involve undressing and the touching of intimate parts, identifying inappropriate behavior can sometimes be challenging. Generally speaking, however, sexual assault by a doctor happens when a doctor disrespects your privacy and touches you sexually without an appropriate reason.
Examples of sexual assault by doctors include:
Keep in mind, however, that doctors are just one type of medical professional who can commit sexual assault against their patients. Any health care professional can commit sexual abuse, including:
Sexual Assault by a Doctor Against a Child
Children are particularly vulnerable to doctor sexual assault, especially since they are usually too young to understand what has happened to them.
That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics has issued new recommendations to prevent medical professionals from sexually abusing young patients. Specifically, it requires medical facilities to do background checks on volunteers and staff who have contact with children. It also recommends having explicit policies around exams involving breasts or genitals and training on how to report possible abuse by colleagues.
While there are many issues with background checks that can enable known perpetrators to slip through the cracks, this is a good start to help prevent medical and doctor sexual abuse.
The Doctor Sexual Assault Cases That Made Headlines
Unfortunately, there has been a recent proliferation in sexual assault cases against doctors and other medical professionals over the last decade. These doctors and medical professionals can sometimes have hundreds of victims over long careers, with the institutions they were employed for being found partially at fault for covering up claims. Some of the most well known cases include the following.
The Larry Nassar Case
A former team physician for USA Gymnastics, Larry Nassar assaulted at least 500 gymnasts under the guise of medical treatment for leg and hip injuries. His victims included Olympic gold medalists McKayla Maroney, Simone Biles, and Aly Raisman. Many of the girls and women assaulted by Nassar have battled mental health problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety, and some have even attempted suicide.
The Robert Hadden Case
In 2020, ex-gynecologist Robert Hadden was charged with six counts of enticing women to perform illegal sex acts. In the indictment report, the victims stated that Hadden conducted abusive breast and vaginal exams when he was alone with them.
In 2022, Hadden was indicted on federal charges after scores of women said he had sexually assaulted them. Among his victims was Evelyn Yang, the wife of former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang.
The Harold Bloomfield Case
The Kevin Brown Case
The Nelson Hendler Case
What are the psychological effects of sexual assault by a doctor?
As with all forms of sexual assault and abuse, sexual assault by a doctor causes extremely difficult and painful emotions, including guilt, anger, fear, anxiety, and betrayal trauma. You may also suffer long-term emotional problems, including:
Recovering from any form of sexual assault can be an uphill battle, but especially when a trusted medical professional is the perpetrator. Keep in mind, however, that sexual assault is never your fault, even if you didn’t fight back or understand what had happened to you until later.
What You Can Do if You Were Sexually Assaulted by a Doctor or Medical Professional
If a doctor or other medical professional sexually assaulted you, it is important to seek medical help, report the doctor’s sexual abuse, and get counseling. You may also consider filing a lawsuit to recover damages.
If you’ve been assaulted, you may choose to seek medical help as soon as possible, even if it may be difficult to trust medical professionals. You may choose to visit an emergency room or your general doctor, depending on the circumstances. Should you want to have a Sexual Assault Forensic Exam (SAFE) performed, medical care will be provided by a sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) in a medical clinic or emergency department. A SANE is a certified professional who provides medical care, documents the details of the assault, and recommends treatment for pregnancy prevention and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) if needed. However, you do not need to have a SAFE performed to seek medical attention and support.
After getting medical help, you can report doctor sexual abuse. You can report your sexual assault by:
After epxeriencing sexual abuse by a medical professional, you may be experiencing some emotional impacts. It can be helpful to seek emotional support from a support group, counselor, or therapist. These services can help you:
You can also reach out 24/7 to the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673).
Finally, you can hire a personal injury lawyer specializing in physician sexual assault cases to get the justice you deserve.
To ensure your case is reviewed, file your claim within your state’s timeframe. Depending on your state, you may only have a few years from the date of the sexual assault to file a claim.
Some states, however, give you significantly more time to file a doctor sexual abuse lawsuit. California, for instance, requires you to file a sexual abuse lawsuit within 10 years from the date of the last assault or attempted assault. If you are suing for sexual assault that happened when you were a child, you must file the lawsuit before your 40th birthday or within five years of discovering the abuse as an adult.