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Sexual Assault by Doctors, Canada

A medical patient can become the victim of a sexual assault by a doctor. Sexual assault by doctors includes any inappropriate touching that goes beyond the required scope of the examination. It can also include the doctor performing unnecessary examinations, or intentionally not wearing gloves during an examination. Given that doctors routinely perform pap tests, pelvic exams, and other procedures involving intimate areas, patients are particularly vulnerable to sexual assault. 

Punishment for medical doctors who sexually assault patients can include criminal charges, civil lawsuits, and restrictions on their ability to practise medicine being imposed by the college of physicians and surgeons.

While the vast majority of medical doctors do not sexually assault their patients, there has been a number of recently reported cases that prove it does happen occasionally.

Voyeurism by Doctors

With advances in technology voyeurism cases against doctors are becoming more common in Canada. There have been several cases of doctors using a hidden video camera to record naked patients during examinations. Voyeurism is openly defined by the Criminal Code to include any surreptitious viewing of a person who has a reasonable expectation of privacy. Since the patient is unaware of the recordings, and the patient is in circumstances that give rise to an expectation of privacy in the examination room, this likely constitutes voyeurism as defined by the criminal code.

It is hard to prevent voyeurism cases involving doctors because they are not remedied by having a nurse or assistant present during the examination. Most cases come to light after the videos are discovered on the doctor’s computer, or someone at the office notices the hidden camera.

Medical societies have a duty to protect patients from being recorded while nude in examination rooms. If you suspect that this has happened to you, you should report it to the medical society and the police as soon as possible. In addition to voyeurism charges, the doctor could face sanctions from the medical society and a possible civil lawsuit from the patient.

Vulnerability of Children Patients

Children are also vulnerable to being sexual assaulted their doctor and are even less likely recognize that what is being done to them is wrong. There have been several cases of paediatricians and family physicians sexually assaulting child patients. The trauma and damage inflicted on the child by such sexual abuse can have a significant negative impact on them for the remainder of their lives.

As a parent, you ought to request to be present during all examinations of your child. You could also request that a nurse be present, which is good practise anyway.

Non-Examination Sexual Assaults

Not all sexual assaults by doctors occur in the examination room. In February, 2011, two Ontario-area doctors were charged with drugging and sexually assaulting a girl in a Toronto hotel room. In the alleged facts of the case, the accused doctors did not take advantage of a patient’s vulnerability, but instead used access to medication and status as physicians to execute the crime. The alleged victim in this case was not a patient, but a person seeking employment advice.

Other cases have been reported that involve doctors trading sex with patients for prescriptions for drugs like Oxycontin and Hydromorphone. Here, physicians are using their power to write prescriptions to highly addictive substances as a bargaining tool for sex. Such actions are both illegal and unethical. Victims in these cases tend to be poor, drug addicted, and some may possibly have criminal backgrounds or be involved in other court cases.

Given the vulnerable nature of drug addicted patients agreeing to sex in exchange for prescriptions, they may feel that nobody would believe their story if they reported it to the police. They may also fear an inability to receive proper medical care, or needed medical notes and referrals in the future if they do not comply.

Preventing Sexual Assault by a Doctor

For cases involving sexual assault of patients by a doctor at the doctor’s office, the most common preventative measure is to have a nurse or assistant present in the examination room at all times. This both deters sexual assaults from occurring and protects the doctor from false claims. The problem is that many doctor’s offices are busy and may not have the resources to ensure a witness is present in the examination room at all times.

If you are concerned about being sexually assaulted by a doctor, one of the best forms of defence is to request that a third person be present during the examination.

Reporting Physician Sexual Assault

There are two main agencies that victims can report sex crimes involving doctors to:

1) the police; and
2) the college of physicians and surgeons.

While reporting the crime to the police will likely cause the medical society to be involved, the medical society may not be obligated to report the crime to the police.

Medicine is a self regulated profession in Canada. While the college of physicians and surgeons has a mandate to protect the public, they also have an interest in protecting the members of their profession. There is no guarantee as to what, if any, action they may take against a doctor who sexually assaults you. Punishments could include an indefinite or temporary suspension to practise medicine, or restrictions on medical practise (such as only being allowed to work alongside another doctor or nurse).

Just because a doctor is acquitted of sexual assault charges in the criminal courts doesn’t mean he necessarily will be off the hook with the medical society. Criminal convictions require a very high standard of proof (beyond a reasonable doubt). Professional bodies do not require this high burden to be met and thus could punish a doctor even if he has been acquitted criminally. For this reason, if you are a victim of sexual assault by a doctor it is important to report it to the medical society and the police.

Doctor Sexual Assault Lawsuits

Like other forms of sexual assault, patients are entitled to sue their doctor for the abuse that has occurred. This legal action is separate from any criminal case against the doctor, and from any action that may be taken against the doctor by the college of physicians and surgeons. Having a criminal conviction, and/or the medical society taking action against the doctor’s actions is good evidence in support of your case but is not necessary for a civil lawsuit. If the doctor has admitted wrongdoing, the only issue may be to determine how much financial compensation is appropriate.

Many cases of this nature settle out of court because it is beneficial to both parties. This will depend on the facts of the case and the admissions, if any, of the doctor. If the sexual assault occurs at a hospital, the corporation or government responsible for the doctor’s employment may be financially liable (along with the doctor himself).

Disclaimer: All information on this page is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice or presumed to be completely accurate, or infinitely up to date. If you have questions regarding your case, please contact a local lawyer immediately because there are time limitations on civil claims. Failure to contact a local lawyer immediately could prevent you from making a claim.

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