Have You Experienced Sexual Assault Or Abuse?

What Patients Deserve to Know About Doctor Sexual Assault

Individuals who experience doctor sexual assault often do not fully realize or label it in the moment. This page is designed to help individuals understand their experience, their rights and options, and how they can get they help they deserve. 

Key Takeaways

  • Sexual assault by a doctor happens when a doctor disrespects your privacy and touches you sexually without an appropriate reason – which can include groping, touching, not using proper equipment, not wearing gloves during a procedure, and any other unwanted physical sexual experiences.
  • Many individuals who experience doctor sexual assault do not fully realize or label the experience as such at first. This can happen for a variety of reasons, but once you have labeled the experience, it is important to document everything you remember as the first step.
  • More and more medical professionals and doctors are being convicted of sex crimes or found guilty in civil lawsuits, requiring the perpetrator and institutions such as hospitals or medical organizations to pay damages to survivors.

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:

  • Touches intimate parts without gloves
  • During procedures you feel they are doing unnecessary things, such as touching your anus or causing unnecessary pain
  • Disrespects your right to privacy by refusing to let a nurse stay in the room during examinations
  • Pressures you into undressing when you don’t have to (i.e., asking or pressuring you to undress when you’re going in to ask about your sprained ankle)
  • Pressures you into medically unnecessary physical examinations (i.e., asking or pressuring you for a gynecological exam when you’re only at the office for a flu shot)
  • Engages in voyeurism by installing video cameras in exam rooms and bathrooms
  • Makes seductive or sexual remarks before, during, and after examinations
  • Makes sexually suggestive expressions or gestures before, during, and after examinations
  • Coerces or forces you into providing sexual favors in exchange for highly-addictive drugs like hydromorphone and oxycontin

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:

  • Dentists
  • Emergency medical technicians (EMTs)
  • Osteopaths
  • Physical therapists
  • Urologists
  • X-ray and imaging technicians
  • Pediatricians
  • Gynecologists
  • Nurses
  • Nursing assistants
  • Anesthesiologists
  • Medical assistants
  • Cosmetic surgeons
Last Date Modified
March 18, 2024
Content Reviewed By:

Kathryn Kosmides
Managing Director | Helping Survivors

Julie Wallach's Story:
Surviving & Preventing Future Doctor Sexual Abuse

Julie Wallach photo

Helping Survivors had the incredible opportunity to speak with Julie Wallach, one of the leading plaintiffs in the doctor sexual assault case against Dr. James Heaps. The following is her experience, in her own words. 

“In 1998, Dr. James Heaps, a gynecological oncologist at UCLA sexually assaulted me. He irreparably harmed my body; sent the nurse out of the room to “examine” me; made sexually harassing comments about my facial features and body parts; used unnecessary instruments to “examine” me; touched my inner thighs and forced them open without gloves. There is more but I flash in and out of being able to share about it.

The tricky part of medical sexual assault is that doctors are perhaps the most trusted humans next to clergy in this country, and I doubted his wrongdoing at first. I trusted that he had to do what he did, even though I felt creeped out, devastated and almost immediately dissociated from the extreme nature of the abuse. I questioned myself and what had just happened, thinking something must be wrong with me, that I caused him to prey on me. This is the same thread that ran in my life when my father abused me, and it is part of a trauma response to deplorable behavior. Predatory behavior is horrendously confusing.

Within a short period of time, I reported his predatory actions to the California Medical Board and UCLA. Both disregarded my concerns and were complicit in Heaps abusing hundreds (possibly thousands) of women. Two decades later, other survivors spoke out. I came forward with all of the documentation that I’d filed when I was assaulted. It’s possible that I was the first patient to file a formal complaint against the doctor and UCLA. 

After decades of healing, I accepted the invitation to be one of the lead plaintiffs in a landmark case against Heaps and UCLA. I had the honor of addressing the California Senate and Judiciary Committee, advocating to lift the statute of limitations for survivors and spoke at press conferences and on news outlets.

I am an incest survivor. I spoke out against my father, who molested me throughout my childhood. In 1998, when I was 18 years old, I had flashbacks of what he did to me. I spoke about it with my family; there was a deep lack of support but I continued to speak out and seek trauma-informed help. This ties into being abused by a gynecological oncologist, as I put all of my energy and attention into healing from my father’s predatory behavior only to be assaulted by the doctor after years of dedication to healing the aftereffects of trauma.”

She ended the interview with Helping Survivors answering the question: ‘What hopeful message would you give to survivors? How do they seek justice and healing?’ with the following message.

“Healing is deeply personal and unique to every survivor, but the following have been vital to my healing processes that span over three decades:

  • Say it aloud. Speak it. You don’t have to shout from the mountaintops unless you’re moved to do that, but if at all possible, talk about the assault with one person whom you trust. Saying the words aloud can feel terrifying and disorienting, but it is empowering and can be the first step to other forms of healing.
  • Find a professional or more who can support your healing. Individual talk therapy, EMDR, somatic therapy, fascia/bodywork, massage, dance, writing, painting and other forms of art therapy, finding a hobby that you love, physical activity, rest/sleeping all play a part in my healing. Finding what works is an exploratory adventure that builds on itself and positively affects so many areas of life – beyond the trauma.
  • If it moves you, become and advocate and activist. Speak at rallies, volunteer to tell your story, connect with other survivors in groups to share in collective healing. 
  • Be honest about the abuse. Saying it over and over helped to confirm what happened to me – it is so easy to fall back into self doubt as a trauma survivor. Keep sharing. 

It is absolutely possible to live a life beyond the intense anxiety, depression, shame, self-doubt, self-destructive patterns and habits and move into a life of deep self value, honest expression, enjoyable sexuality and authentic, deep empowerment.”

Today, Julie speaks publicly about surviving sexual assault, and facilitates one-on-one & group expressive writing workshops. More information on her work can be found here.

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.

Dr. 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.

Dr. Darius Paduch

Dr. Darius Paduch is a former New York based urologist accused of medical sexual assault, misconduct, and harassment by dozens of male patients over 19 years.

Doctor sexual assault against male patients is an unfortunate reality that does not often make headlines. Male individuals who experience doctor sexual assault often do not realize it at the time.

You can get help if you were a patient of Dr. Paduch – and we can help put you in touch with the experts who can help you seek justice.

Dr. Zhi Alan Cheng Case

Dr. Cheng is a Queens doctor who has been charged as of August 2023 with drugging, raping and filming the sexual assaults of a string of women, including patients at the prominent New York hospital. 

Maj. Michael Stockin Case

The January 2024 charges against the physician, Maj. Michael Stockin, include 48 counts of abusive sexual contact and five counts of indecent viewing under the military code of justice, with a majority, if not all of the 42 alleged victims being male. 

Dr. David Broadbent Lawsuits

Dr. David Broadbent is a former Utah obstetrician-gynecologist who is facing allegations of medical sexual assault, misconduct, and harassment by over 100 women.

There are on going lawsuits happening against him and the institutions who kept him in a position of power. If you or someone you know was a patient of his, reach out to Helping Survivors to learn how you can seek justice.

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.

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. Julie Wallach, a survivor of Dr. James Heaps medical sexual abuse, provided Helping Survivors some insight into how individuals may be feeling immediately following experiencing medical sexual abuse. She stated “If you’re experiencing a numbed out, dissociative feeling about the visit, talk with someone you trust/a professional about that feeling. You don’t have to remember details to trust that trauma could have occurred or is occurring.” She additionally added, “If you notice that you’re hypervigilant at the doctor’s office, while making appointments or have anxiety and have uncomfortable physical experiences relating to the medical professional, talk about that with a trusted friend, family member or professional who will validate your feelings rather than diminish or ignore them.”

You may also suffer long-term emotional problems, including:

  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Suicidal ideation and suicide
  • Depression
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Isolation and withdrawal
  • Fear and distrust of medical professionals
  • Denial
  • Grief
  • Sexual promiscuity
  • Relationship problems
  • Disconnection from your sense of self, thoughts, memories, and feelings

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.

Seek Medical Help

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.

Report Doctor Sexual Abuse

After getting medical help, you can report doctor sexual abuse. You can report your sexual assault by:

  • Calling 911 to report to your local law enforcement
  • Contacting the doctor’s office, hospital, or facility where you were sexually assaulted
  • Reporting the assault to your state’s medical licensing board

Seek Emotional Support

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:

  • Develop and enhance healthy coping mechanisms
  • Find ways to deal with your negative feelings
  • Manage stress
  • Explore thoughts you can’t address with your friends and family

You can also reach out 24/7 to the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673).

File a Lawsuit

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.

Want To Speak With A Lawyer?

Understand your legal rights and options as a survivor of sexual assault and abuse.