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Doctors accused of sexual abuse often avoid the justice system

When doctors sexually abuse patients, not only may they be breaking the law, but they are violating the all-important doctor-patient relationship. However, many doctors accused of sexual misconduct have been able to avoid not only the legal system, but professional sanctions.

That's one of a multitude of disturbing findings in an investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper in its "Doctors and Sex Abuse" series. Journalists reviewed thousands of documents throughout the country detailing disciplinary actions taken against physicians.

It's become common practice for physicians accused of sexual abuse to be determined by regulatory boards to have an "impairment" and allowed to participate in education or treatment programs. By doing this, they can avoid being charged criminally and return to practicing medicine.

These programs vary from state to state. Some are as short as a three-day class on "boundaries." Others involve in-patient mental health treatment. Some regulatory board discipline is done in private. In some cases, doctors retire when faced with the possibility of the board reporting them to police.

Most states (39), as well as Washington, D.C., don't require regulators to notify law enforcement or prosecutors when a doctor is accused of sexual abuse. Mississippi is one of those 39 states, as long as the alleged abuse involves an adult. That doesn't mean that they never report it. One former state medical board investigator says it depends in part on how much "credible information" there is to substantiate the allegation.

"Cronyism" is cited as a likely reason why medical boards are loathe to report accused sexual abusers. One woman, who discusses her own rape more than 50 years ago by her psychiatrist in her book "Doctors Who Rape: Malpractice and Misogyny," says that the medical professionals on these boards often "feel empathy for the doctor rather than the victim." One medical ethicist blames the "traditional sensibility of doctors to protect one another...."

Of course, victims of sexual abuse can report the actions to law enforcement themselves if it rises to the level of a crime. That may be difficult for the average patient to determine. If you or a loved one has been the victim of any sort of sexual misconduct at the hands of a medical professional, a medical malpractice attorney can provide advice on the best course of action to take and work to protect you throughout the process.

Source: NBC News, "Doctors Return to Clinics After Sex Abuse, Investigation Finds," Aug. 24, 2016

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