The healthcare industry is in desperate need of institutional change if it truly aims to combat sexual misconduct.
Thanks to modern day civil rights movements like #MeToo, #TimesUp, and #BlackLivesMatter, people across the country have mustered the courage to confront sexual misconduct and inequality. But despite the spike in sexual assault survivors coming forward in recent years, the majority of cases still go unreported.
A common theme among survivors who are apprehensive about reporting their assailant is how they’ll be perceived. Victim-shaming has been shown many times in the media and even extends into courtrooms. One area many don’t expect, however, is the prevalence of sexual misconduct in healthcare. Even more surprising is the lack of disciplinary action taken against practitioners found guilty of misconduct.
As more and more accounts of practitioner misconduct have come to light in recent years, licensing boards have shown leniency in disciplining perpetrators. Many practitioners are even able to continue practicing despite receiving multiple claims. This has led to the continuation of abuse and assault in such a vulnerable industry.
Exposing Sexual Misconduct In Medicine
Even in 2019, sexual abuse and misconduct can happen to anyone, anywhere — healthcare is no exception. What began as a few whispers of misconduct cases about a decade ago has now grown into a prevalent issue in an industry where most would least expect. The public typically holds medical practitioners to a higher standard because of the extensive training and oath they take in order to practice. However, reports show this isn’t always the case.
Just this past month an Arizona care facility went under investigation after a patient who’s been in a vegetative state for over a decade gave birth. This comes shortly after the investigation of over 30 California Kaiser doctors for sexual misconduct and assault cases in late 2018.
What’s most concerning about these types of sexual abuse and assault cases is their duration. Because of the general notion that healthcare professionals are there to protect their patients, many signs of misconduct can be overlooked or ignored, placing victims in danger of repeated abuse. Needless to say, the healthcare industry is in desperate need of institutional change if it truly aims to combat sexual misconduct.
How Often Does Sexual Misconduct Happen In Healthcare?
A study found over 7,000 reports of sexual misconduct were reported against healthcare professionals between 2000 and 2017. These are cases that included inappropriate touching and groping, flirting and other inappropriate verbal conduct, unwanted sexual advances, sexual assault and rape.
While California was shown to be the worst of offenders, the problem has impacted patients and providers across the country. The state of Michigan licensing board recently punished 30 healthcare professionals for sexual misconduct in 2018.
Though some licensing boards have disciplined some perpetrators, many argue it’s not enough. Studies show that despite having valid claims and disciplinary action taken against them, only 24% of practitioners had their professional licenses suspended or revoked. That’s 1,796 instances in which a practitioner had disciplinary action taken against them for sexual misconduct but were able to keep their license to practice.
Getting Worse Or Reported?
Sexual misconduct reports among healthcare professionals saw a significant spike in 2010. Though it’s unclear what could have caused this increase, it does show the traditional dynamic of silence among survivors is beginning to change. A 2013 study also showed that more women reported their assaults to authorities in 2013 than in 2004. While this is proof we are moving in the right direction, it’s important to note that the majority of rape and sexual assault crimes still go unreported.
What Can You Do About It?
It can be easy to feel helpless when it comes to an issue that involves so much bureaucracy, but there are many ways ordinary people can make a big difference.
Report It: Though more and more people have had the courage to report their assault, there are still so many who don’t. Especially when it comes to a practicing healthcare professional, it’s important to hold them accountable for their violations as soon as possible.
Encourage Victims To Report Their Assault: If a friend or family member tells you about an assault, first be there for them. Then, encourage them to report their assailant and to visit a doctor quickly after the assault happened. It may be hard for victims to endure immediately after the trauma of an attack but it’s extremely important. For more information on how to best talk to a survivor of sexual assault, visit RAINN.org.
Choose A Representative Who Cares About The Issue: Elect officials who believe in stricter laws against sexual assault and misconduct violations. Learn about your elected officials and be informed about those who represent your stance on the issue. Information on each representative’s information is available online. You can view each senator’s information by state here.
Consider Speaking With An Attorney: You can also consult with an injury attorney. Apart from punishment from a licensing board, healthcare physicians who participate in sexual misconduct can also face personal injury lawsuits by their victims. The public witnessed this in the case of Larry Nassar, the Olympic team physician who molested over 100 athletes.
Contact Your Elected Official: If you’re passionate about the issue, make your voice heard. Contact your elected federal, state, and local officials about issues that matter to you. These days, contacting an elected official is as easy as filling out a form online, and you may also contact them by phone if you wish. You can view each official’s contact information by state here.
Brenda Elazab is a San Diego-based freelance writer covering a wide variety of topics, including social justice, legal issues and health. On her spare time, she enjoys traveling the world, being outdoors and spending time at comedy clubs. If you like her work, you can contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.