What is Professional Sexual Misconduct?

Posted on Tuesday, November 26th, 2019 at 8:21 pm    

Sexual exploitation by physical and mental health professionals remains prevalent in society, despite attempts to hinder such acts from occurring. Policies, published guidelines, and ethical codes have been implemented to deter professional sexual misconduct. However, this type of sexual exploitation continues to be a poorly understood problem. Of the mental health clinicians who treat or evaluate patients, almost half of the mental health clinicians have reported that at least one patient had been sexually exploited by a physician, psychiatrist, psychotherapist or other health professional. Due to the connotation associated with “professionals,” these sex offenders are prone to more frequent moral outrage, societal disgust and negativity than other sex offenders.

Unfortunately, sexual contact between patients and mental health professionals is nothing new. Similarly, disclosure of professional sexual misconduct continues to be an extremely complex and difficult process. Professional ethical boards and therapeutic programs are provided in order to establish individualized responses to this issue. As globally defined, professional sexual misconduct is the acting out of several inappropriate and/or abusive verbal and/or nonverbal sexual behaviors introduced and/or continued by the professional toward a patient, client or subordinate in the workplace. The role of trust, power and authority combine to play a role in the sexual acting out process by professionals.

Although the behaviors vary greatly, they generally range from simple, unsolicited but insistent sexual statements and comments, to repeated verbal advances and sexual harassment, to actual bodily behaviors, including inappropriate hugging and kissing, sexual touching, rubbing, exhibitionism, voyeurism, masturbation, oral sex, and coital sexual relations. Behavior by the offender is usually calculated and prearranged, and it may be pressured and forceful. Offender’s often have obsessive-compulsive qualities, which may lead to repeated offenses. An inability to feel empathy can cause the offender to place blame on the victim for the attack. They minimize their own actions to bolster their confidence to feel good in the aftermath.

There are several situations in which professional sexual misconduct can occur. For example: a male surgeon who exhibits a history of inappropriate sexual comments and invasive sexual inquiries towards certain female nurses; a male professor and physician who has a background filled with sexual liaisons with a quantity of female students and/or patients; a male psychiatrist who has been known in the past to carry out sexual relations with female patients; a male family medical doctor with grave professional boundary issues, who retains social affairs with male patients and intimate sexual relations with several of his female patients; an obstetrician-gynecologist who is known to be sexually offensive and rash in his remarks, positions, and behaviors toward a select number of his female patients; a female family physician who gets involved in a sexual affair with a male patient who had confided in her for emotional and moral support; a male plastic surgeon who has a history of sexual relations with post-surgical female patients; a dentist who is known to have a repugnant compulsion of rubbing his genitals against female patients; a psychiatric social worker who is exceedingly associated with child protection cases, displaying a history of expressive and sexual relationships with reliant, disadvantaged female clients towards whom he feels compelled to help “save” and “care”; and, a male psychologist known to be tied to sexual affairs with female patients.

Another area of professional sexual misconduct that has been adequately described, is within clergy members and religious leaders. Coming to light more recently in this realm is sexual misconduct by priests, pastors, preachers, ministers, rabbis and religious leaders of other denominations. This misconduct generally occurs within the confine of the members churches, synagogues, mosques and congregations.

Much like other sexual offenses, such as child sexual abuse, information on the prevalence of professional sexual misconduct is widely available however, the data represents an underestimation of the reality. The truth about such sexual offenses are very under-reported. This can be the result of either nondisclosure of such offenses, or because nothing is done once the disclosure is brought forth. Data collected anonymously on roughly 114 psychiatrists revealed shocking statistics: that 10% of the psychiatrists admitted to engaging in some form of erotic and/or sexual contact with their patients. Furthermore, a survey compiled anonymously revealed that 6.4% of over 1300 psychiatrists admitted having sexual relations with at least one of their own patients, while one-third of this group had acted out on more than one patient.

As defined, sexual contact can be any form physical contact that pleases or stimulates sexual desire in a physician, patient or both. Therapeutic significance of sexual relations with patients as a form of remedial emotional experience geared at curing or healing the patient, is a belief valued by many repeat offenders. Another study suggests that of the 1900 obstetrician gynecologists, surgeons, internists and family practitioners, 9% recognized having been sexually involved with one of their own patients. Of the overall physician population, sexual misconduct and boundary violations are likely to occur 3% to 10%. Similar results have been reported for surveys involving social workers and psychologists.

Apart from the detrimental physical and emotional effects sexual misconduct can have on a victim, it also promotes conflict in the work environment. The offender’s behaviors and attitudes in the workplace often arise to those of a substance abuser. Offenders often act out at work, exhibiting their loss of personal control despite adverse consequences. In addition to psychological problems such as personality disorders, substance abuse and depression, professionals accused of sexual misconduct often suffer intimacy disorders and sexual compulsivity.

Classification of an offense is measured by its description, and the nature and extent of the professional relationship with the victim. Professional sexual misconduct occurs on a daily basis, and you or someone you know may be a victim. If you have survived sexual abuse, know that you need not suffer any longer. At Hach & Rose, LLP, it is our duty to bring justice to those who could not protect themselves. A new addition to our highly-equipped firm is Mr. Stanley Spero. Mr. Spero’s legal knowledge, analytical capability, judgment, communication and legal experience have all been rated 5.0/5.0 by his peers. Mr. Spero is focused on the individual needs of every client. He understands the harm that is caused as a result of abuse by psychiatrists, psychologists, psychotherapists, social workers, educators, pastoral counselors and clergy. Mr. Spero knows what needs to be done in order to obtain restitution and justice on his clients’ behalf. Please do not hesitate to contact us at (212) 779-0057 or online. The experienced and knowledgeable New York sexual abuse attorneys of Hach & Rose, LLP, are prepared to help you fully understand your legal rights and options.

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