Many people put their lives, health, and well-being into the hands of doctors. However, regardless of the rigorous education doctors and medical professionals go through, they are still people, and people aren’t always good and don’t always have your best interests in mind. And because of the power that being a doctor comes with, some people may seek to abuse that power, sometimes in the form of sexual misconduct. But what constitutes doctor-patient sexual assault, what does it look like, and what are your rights as a patient?
The legal definition of sexual assault is when sexually charged contact or behavior is unwillingly expressed toward a victim. Sexual assault can constitute fondling, unwanted touches or advances, attempted rape, or penetration. It is important to note that although not all sexual assault is rape, all rape is sexual assault. Rape is considered any form of penetration, vaginal or anal, without the explicit consent of the victim.
Additionally, sexual assault is not always a forceful act, as coercion, psychological manipulation, and so forth can coerce a victim into nonconsensual sex or sexual acts. Most may understand sexual assault as an action done by people who are “obviously” criminals, but this is not the case. Oftentimes, sexual assault is carried out by people who are close to the victim, such as a family member, close friend, or anyone you trust—even a doctor.
Doctor-patient sexual assault is any sexual assault done by a medical professional in a care setting. A care setting doesn’t necessarily have to be in a hospital, but it can occur in an office or even in in-home care. Unfortunately, because of this, many of the world’s most vulnerable people are the most affected by doctor-patient sexual assault.
For example, seniors are the most likely to receive care from medical professionals at home. Because people often trust nurses and doctors, many caregivers are not aware of the dangers their loved ones can face, giving an abuser a clear opening. However, most of the time, doctor-patient abuse can look very different from what you might be used to when you think of sexual assault, although the general guidelines are the same.
A doctor might order unnecessary procedures or exams in order to see a patient nude or be able to touch them. For this reason, many checkups given to children are now required to have a familiar adult in the room. Additionally, a female nurse has to be present during gynecological appointments where the practitioner is a male. While this is done partially to prevent misunderstandings and false accusations, it is more of a safeguard for the patient.
You may not always understand why a procedure is necessary, but if you feel like it isn’t, inquire as to why your doctor feels the need to go through with this exam or procedure. If you’re uncomfortable, it is important to express your mind about it and see if there are any alternatives. An unnecessary exam may be sexually charged if it seems overly invasive or drastic, especially if a doctor has you get fully or partially undressed necessarily. However, if your doctor ignores your concerns, you may want to get a second opinion from another health care professional.
However, sexual assault can occur during necessary procedures and exams as well. You know your body, and if an action makes you uncomfortable, you should make it known or promptly leave. A kind and experienced doctor will tell you what they’re going to touch beforehand so as to not surprise you and to give you a moment to refuse. Additionally, they will likely touch you firmly—not enough to hurt you and only enough to determine what the problem is. Conversely, unwanted sexual charged touches may be slow and lingering or overly forceful and painful.
But in extreme cases, you may not know that you are being sexually assaulted, such as when you are under anesthesia or being operated on. If you notice unrelated bruises or marks, feel sore in or around your genital areas not typical of the procedure, or notice excretions of seminal fluid, these are red flags and indicators that you have been sexually assaulted while under anesthesia.
While doctor-patient sexual assault can happen to absolutely anyone, the most vulnerable groups are considered children, seniors, the disabled, and women. As mentioned previously, many seniors who are unable to care for themselves or have someone care for them are taken under the wing of medical professionals. This could be in their own homes or in nursing homes. Because they have no one else to advocate for them and are sometimes considered “senile,” their voices may go unheard, or they may not be believed. In the worst-case scenario, they may not even be able to say a thing.
Often, children or the disabled do not have the mental or physical faculties to defend themselves or understand what’s going on. A child does not have the physical strength to defend themselves from sexual assault or know what sexual acts are. That is why a parent or guardian must be present at nearly all times. The mentally disabled may also not be aware of what’s going on or know how to express themselves. On the other hand, the physically disabled may not be able to properly defend themselves, and typically, a parent, guardian, or trusted caretaker is to be present as well.
However, regardless of who is a victim of sexual assault, the effects can be enormous and life changing. Sexual assault in any shape or form can leave a person with lifelong trauma, physical pain, and even more medical bills. This trauma can stop people from working and being able to continue with their everyday lives—it can be a complete disruption. For some, it may even lead to self-harm or suicide. But when sexual assault is committed by a doctor, someone whom you are supposed to trust and engage with to be healthy, all of the above can happen and more.
Doctor-patient sexual assault can destroy someone’s ability to trust and make them fearful of doctors and medical professionals as a whole. They may reject seeking the care that they need, causing them to miss out on critical procedures and exams to keep them healthy. A doctor’s office can be a scary place on its own, but with the addition of sexual assault, it can become a place of nightmares.
Sometimes, doctor-patient sexual assault is considered malpractice. This is because, in order to become a doctor, one must abide by a particular code of ethics. Sexual assault can constitute a breach of duty if a victim is harmed during an exam, procedure, or surgery. Even if it is not physical harm, a person can still claim medical malpractice. Additionally, doctor-patient sexual assault can delay medical care, causing a person’s condition to worsen, which can also be considered malpractice.
Knowing what constitutes doctor-patient sexual assault gives victims and loved ones alike the knowledge and the power to defend themselves legally. If you fear you’ve been a victim of doctor-patient sexual assault, contact patient rights lawyer Tamara N. Holder to get the representation you deserve from someone who truly cares.