Doctor Sexual Assault

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Doctors are some of the most trusted members of society. In a 2021 Ipsos poll spanning 28 countries, an average of 64 percent of respondents rated doctors as trustworthy.

Unfortunately, physicians can often take advantage of this trust by sexually assaulting patients when they are most vulnerable. Read on to learn more about sexual assault by doctors, what you can do to prevent doctor sexual abuse, 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 your sexual parts without an appropriate reason. As such, you have been sexually assaulted by a doctor if your doctor:

  • Touches intimate parts without gloves
  • 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
doctor sexually assaulting patient
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

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.

Notable Doctor Sexual Assault Cases

There are many notable doctor sexual abuse cases, including 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

Harold Bloomfield, a psychotherapist and nationally-known author of self-help books, pleaded guilty to drugging and sexually assaulting seven female patients in 2002.

The Kevin Brown Case

Kevin Brown, head of a Los Angeles clinic, was arrested in 2008 by an undercover female police officer who testified that Brown had fondled her breast when she was seeking help for an ankle injury.

The Nelson Hendler Case

Nelson Hendler was a Maryland-based pain expert and medical director of the Mensana Clinic. In 2007, his medical license was suspended after he admitted to sexually abusing and assaulting patients in the 90s and early 2000s. One patient said she provided oral sex to Hendler and masturbated in exchange for drugs.

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:
  • 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 sexual assault can be an uphill battle, 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 you walked out of the room. Sexual intercourse or contact without consent is always wrong, and anyone who sexually abuses someone is 100 percent responsible for their actions, regardless of their profession.

How to Prevent Doctor Sexual Abuse

The main way to prevent doctor sexual abuse is to have an assistant or nurse present in the examination room at all times. If the office does not have the resources to ensure a witness is present in the examination room at all times, you can request a third person (i.e., your parent) to be present during the examination.

What to 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

Once you’ve been assaulted, you want to seek medical help as soon as possible. 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. The nurse is also available to testify in court.

Report Doctor Sexual Abuse

After getting medical help, you need to 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

Get Counseling

The next step is 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.