When you visit a medical professional, you expect that they are going to be professional and ethical. The same should apply to nurses, dentists, hospitals, and others, not just medical doctors. Sexual assault occurs when one adult engages in the unwanted touching or penetration of another adult. Often interchanged with the word “abuse,” assault is reserved for adult cases. In contrast, abuse is reserved for vulnerable populations like children, the elderly, and those who suffer from severe disabilities.
Experiencing sexual assault in a medical setting can be a serious violation of trust, the law, and medical ethics. The doctor’s oath is “do no harm,” yet so many have caused harm to their patients as a result of sexually assaulting them.
EXPECTATIONS IN MEDICAL EXAM SETTINGS
Scheduling a medical exam is not something that most people get excited about. So when you aren’t entirely sure what happened during the exam or if it was appropriate, you begin to distrust those you are supposed to trust the most. What should you expect during an exam?
During an exam, you should expect to:
- Have the option to end it at any time you feel uncomfortable
- Be able to ask for an additional person in the room with you
- Have complete privacy during any exam
- Be able to undress to your level of comfort and should not be required to remain undressed for longer than necessary
- Be given the option to ask for a doctor of a preferred gender to maximize comfort
- Have religion respected
- Be informed in the native language you speak
- Have pain taken seriously and be informed if something during the exam may be painful
Even when an exam is medically necessary, you are in control of what happens. You should be comfortable at all times, and if you ask the medical provider to stop, they should stop – no questions asked.
WHAT IS OKAY AND WHAT IS NOT OKAY?
Sometimes exams are necessary to remain healthy. These examinations are not comfortable, but they are designed to be as comfortable as possible, given the circumstances. There are some exams where patients are more vulnerable to sexual assault when not conducted correctly. These examinations include pelvic, vaginal, breast, rectal, and testicular. What is okay during these exams? What is not okay during these exams? Even though these exams have to be done, there is a code that medical providers should be abiding by.
WHAT IS OKAY?
During an examination, it is okay for the person performing the examination to:
- Explain each step of the examination before it happens. Doing this allows you to be aware of what is coming to not be caught off guard.
- Use gloves
- Provide encouragement for you to tell them if something does not feel right or is uncomfortable
- Be the same gender as yourself, if you have requested it
- Only ask for you to undress the areas in which you are being examined. In most circumstances, you should be given a drape and a gown for coverage.
WHAT IS NOT OKAY?
It is not okay for anyone who is performing an examination to:
- Refuse to answer your questions or tell you to be quiet during the examination
- Examine your body without the use of gloves
- Refuse to provide insight or tell you what they are doing
- Decline your right to have another person in the room with you during the examination
- Insist that you undress areas of your body that are not being examined
- Ask you intrusive questions about your sexuality that do not pertain to the exam or make you uncomfortable
In a lawsuit filed by seven women who were former patients of a University of California gynecologist, a $73 million settlement amount has been proposed by the school on behalf of those seven women, and the additional 6,600 that they believe were sexually assaulted by James Heaps. Allegations state that the sexual assaults occurred during the span of his career between 1983 and 2018. There are accusations that Heaps would do exams without gloves, stimulate the women as if having intercourse with them, or use the ultrasound probe to penetrate them roughly.
The civil lawsuit is separate from the criminal charges that have been filed against Heaps. The school is the one who has offered the current settlement amount, not Heaps. The judge will be required to sign off on this amount for the class action lawsuit.
The Heaps settlement and lawsuit come on the eve of a federal judge awarding a $215 million in settlements for 18,000 women who were former patients of a University of Southern California gynecologist, Dr. George Tyndall.
MEN CAN BE VICTIMS TOO
Women may be the higher percentage when it comes to sexual assault, but men have been victims in medical settings. It is not just gynecologists who sexually assault their patients. A California law firm represents several men who claim that they were sexually assaulted by a University of Michigan doctor, Robert Anderson.
The allegations of the sexual abuse date back to the 1970s, during which time Robert Anderson was a doctor for the University of Michigan. The men allege that Anderson would perform unnecessary exams, some of which included prostate exams and anal penetration that was not necessary. Even though Anderson died in 2008, the firm is still seeking damages from the university for the men.
To rectify what Anderson did to male students who attended the University of Michigan, the university is asking that those sexually abused by Anderson call 866.990.0111. The university also plans to help any former patients of Anderson connect with the proper resources for help, assess new information for review as it is collected, and commit to a public account of the investigation in a manner that respects the privacy and confidentiality of the former patients.
The firm says that it is almost parallel to the Richard Strauss case. Strauss was a doctor for Ohio State University and allegedly sexually assaulted over 117 male patients. He worked for the university from 1979 to 1998. Strauss killed himself in 2005.
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I WAS SEXUALLY ASSAULTED?
In many instances of sexual assault in a medical setting, it is likely that you are not the only one. Many medical professionals are repeat offenders when it comes to the sexual assault of patients, which is why you see so many class-action lawsuits instead of single settlements.
The first thing you should do is call the police if you have been or suspect sexual assault by a medical professional. Reporting sexual assault may require statements and evidence collection, as well as filing a police report.
Next, filing a report with the State Medical Board may result in revoking the medical professional’s licensing or in disciplinary reprimand. Keeping the professional from assaulting another person is crucial, given the likelihood that they will do it again.
Inform the hospital or medical facility where the assault happened. They should be aware of the incident and begin the process of reviewing prior complaints or questioning past and present patients.
Find an advocacy group or support group to become a part of. Most sexual assault victims do not come forward because they are ashamed or feel like it is their fault. They self-isolate, making themselves feel even more alone. Groups like RAINN and 1in6 offer support for sexual assault. 1in6 was created to specifically reduce the stigma around sexual assault in the male population.
Hire a lawyer who specializes in cases of doctor/nurse sexual assault. Talking to a lawyer can help you figure out your next move in pursuing justice for your sexual assault. Lawyers can also help you prepare statements and reports that may be required if the case goes to court.
Doctors are not the only ones who sexually assault patients. In 2014, Roy Anthony Jones was arrested after a 37-year-old intoxicated female patient accused him of sexually assaulting her when he took her for a CAT scan. The incident occurred at the Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington. The woman told the hospital about the assault and, between the administrators and the police, narrowed down the list to Jones.
Jones pleaded guilty to the charges and was sentenced to 12 years in prison with supervised probation to follow.
DOCTOR/NURSE SEXUAL ASSAULT CASE EXPERTS
Nobody wants to believe that a person you are supposed to trust is capable of sexually assaulting someone, but it happens more than people realize. In the medical community alone, many of the patients who are sexually assaulted by doctors, nurses, or support staff stay quiet for fear of retaliation or that no one will believe them.
Taking the first step toward justice can be hard, and the lawyers at TorkLaw know that. That is why we offer you our undivided attention and support during your case. We offer clients FREE and confidential case consultations, allowing victims of sexual abuse to control the situation. We work hard to make the perpetrators in these cases pay.
If you or someone you love has been a victim of doctor/nurse sexual assault, our phone lines are available at 888.845.9696 for you to begin the case consultation process.