Medical Professional Abuse / Sexual Misconduct
Sexual abuse or misconduct can happen in any employment situation and the medical profession is no exception. This abuse can be directed at co-workers or patients. Medical professionals such as physicians and dentists enjoy high social and professional standing; and while most doctors dedicate themselves to their work, some abuse their position of power by sexually harassing colleagues in the workplace.
Others take advantage of the vulnerable state of patients who need their help and use the close physical proximity that the profession provides to sexually assault them. The conviction of prominent sports doctor Larry Nassar in early 2018 demonstrates that sexual abuse in the medical profession can go on for decades without being exposed.
Sexual Harassment in the Medical Profession
Medical professionals are entrusted with the health and well-being of their patients. When doctors harass their co-workers, whether nurses or aides, those workers are distracted from the task of providing care to patients. Sexual harassment may take the form of
- Requests for unwanted dates
- Unsolicited physical contact
- Unsolicited nonverbal attention
- Offensive sexual remarks
- Sexual propositions
- Physical assault
Any employee experiencing this type of harassment should file a complaint with their employer. Failure to investigate a complaint or monitor and remedy the situation could result in a hostile work environment for which the employer may be held liable.
Quid Pro Quo vs. Hostile Work Environment
In legal terms, workplace sexual harassment falls into two categories – quid pro quo and hostile work environment. Quid pro quo literally means “something for something” and in this situation an employee is pressured implicitly or explicitly to perform sexual acts or else suffer negative consequences at work. This could mean demotion, termination, missing a promotion, benefits, or any other adverse employment action. The person demanding the sexual favors must be in a position to exert power over the victim so that the victim felt they had no choice but to comply. A supervisor or manager for instance can be accused of quid pro quo sexual harassment, but not a co-worker who has no authority to affect employment consequences for the victim.
A hostile work environment arises when the victim experiences harassment conditions such as unwanted contact or touching, lewd or vulgar language or conduct, or even the posting of offensive sexual materials such that their ability to perform their daily tasks at work is affected. In some cases, hostile work environment does not involve physical contact and the victim does not have to be the object of harassment, but could be anyone affected by the offensive behavior.
Sexual Assault of Patients
The majority of physicians, nurses, physician’s assistants and health care aides are genuinely concerned with their patients’ healthcare, however, sexual misconduct is known to occur in medical care facilities such as hospitals and nursing homes. It is important that patients who have been abused seek experienced legal counsel to ensure that their abusers are brought to justice and prevented from inflicting further harm on other patients. While it may be difficult to come forward with a complaint, many victims also find it therapeutic to be able to shed the feeling of powerlessness against their abuser.
The New Jersey Board of Medical Examiners has clearly defined what qualifies as sexual misconduct for its licensees and the consequences of sexual misconduct can be the revocation or suspension of the license to practice medicine as well as other penalties and costs related to investigations and prosecution.
Victims of sexual assault should seek to file a claim as soon as they are able so that the case falls within the statute of limitations which is differs from state to state. If applicable, a rape kit and physical examination should be performed to preserve evidence. Victims should seek immediate treatment for physical injuries, and therapy to support their emotional recovery.