Doctors & Sexual Abuse or Assault of Patients – A Unique Problem in the Medical Profession

Doctors and medical professionals who sexually abuse or assault patients are often given special treatment by medical licensing boards, prosecutors and law enforcement. A national investigation reveals that doctors often receive a slap on the wrist after sexually abusing a patient. Those that get their licenses revoked can apply for and receive a license in another state.

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Earlier this month, a nationwide investigation revealed hundreds of cases of patients being sexually assaulted or abused by medical professionals, including physicians, surgeons, anesthesiologists and pediatricians. As if an act of abuse by a medical professional isn’t enough, the investigation revealed that nurses and other medical professionals, as well as state medical licensing boards, often turned a blind eye. In case after case, doctors who were suspended or had their licenses revoked due to reports of sex abuse of a patient would later go on to practice medicine.

The year-long investigation was conducted by the Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC) and was published on July 6, 2016. A second part to the series will be published in August; remaining parts will be published throughout the remainder of the year. The AJC has set up a website detailing the investigation:

Doctors & Medical Professionals – Treated Differently When it Comes to Sexual Abuse or Assault

The investigation began with a report on prison medical care in Georgia. That investigation revealed 100 cases which clearly involved sexual misconduct by a medical professional. In the majority of those cases (66%), doctors didn’t lose their medical licenses or were reinstated after some disciplinary action was taken. This included doctors who were repeat offenders. Essentially, the initial report revealed that doctors were treated differently than others who commit acts of sexual abuse. To see if this phenomenon was unique to Georgia, the newspaper opened up its investigation and studied cases of sexual abuse or assault by doctors or medical professionals across the entire country. It found that doctors across the country were treated differently than other types of sexual offenders such as priests, teachers, etc. The newspaper then undertook the task of studying documents from medical licensing boards and created special computer programs to compile and analyze the data. The results were astounding.

In case after case, doctors who were caught sexually abusing patients (and sometimes multiple patients), essentially got off with a slap on the wrist. Some doctors received letters from medical boards citing concerns while others were required to receive ethics training or in some cases, sexual misconduct treatment.

In many cases, colleagues ignored warning signs and medical licensing boards took great pains to downplay the substantive allegations. What’s particularly troubling is that doctors whose medical licenses were revoked in one state applied for and received a license to practice medicine in another state.

In one instance, a doctor in Alabama had his license revoked after four patients came forward with allegations of sexual abuse. A year later, he applied for and received a license in neighboring Mississippi, having received “boundary training.”

The investigation revealed a serious problem. In many states, medical licensing boards provide zero access to reports or documents when investigating sexual abuse by a doctor. Also, without national or centralized oversight, doctors with a history of sexually abusing patients can continue obtaining access to unsuspecting patients in another state.

The newspaper’s investigation is still ongoing. It will be interesting to see what it reveals in subsequent reports.

Visit our law library for more info about medical professionals/doctors and sex abuse in the U.S.