Sexual Assault at the Doctor’s Office
This week, hundreds of people stayed tuned to the news as dozens of women appeared in a courtroom in Michigan to share harrowing stories of sexual assault.
Sexual assault, which predominantly affects women and girls, is a serious problem in the United States. Unfortunately, it is a also controversial topic which is often ignored and avoided. This has lead to a lack of knowledge about the scope of the problem and how to stop it.
So why has this specific case piqued so much public interest?
Hundreds of Accusers
The prominence of some of the accusers likely played a role. This week’s hearing focused on the punishment of Larry Nassar, a former doctor with USA Gymnastic. Nassar faces accusations of sexual assault from hundreds of his young patients. Many claim that he assaulted them under the guise of a medical examination. Because he worked with an elite organization like USA Gymnastics, his accusers include common names in the sports world, like Olympians McKayla Maroney and Aly Raisman.
While not the first woman to accuse Nassar of assault, Maroney was one of the first to bring the case into the public spotlight when she wrote about her experiences, including a night when she woke up in Nassar’s hotel room after he gave her a sleeping pill. At the hearing, hundreds of other women joined Maroney in sharing their stories of assault and abuse. The victims include other USA Gymnastics athletes, women who had been assaulted by Nassar years ago, and the mother of a young gymnast who committed suicide after her assault. Their stories were disturbing, but often inspirational, as many of the women declared that they would no longer be victims.
Nassar’s case has also garnered attention because of the scary idea that lies behind it all: the idea that a medical professional, someone worthy of intimate access to a patient’s body, could commit such a crime. Doctors are supposed to be trustworthy people who treat their patients in an ethical, safe, and professional manner. The idea that a doctor would breach this duty by sexual misconduct is devastating.
Sexual Assault at the Doctor’s Office
But it does happen. According to a study by the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, hundreds of physicians are guilty of abusing patients. Many of these physicians practice in female-centric areas of medicine, like obstetrics and gynecology. According to a similar study by RAINN, 27% of women said they had been violated by a doctor.
The scariest fact? Of the 2,400 professionals penalized for sexual abuse against their patients, half still legally practice. In many cases, the victims did report their abuse, but did not receive any justice, compensation, or even attention. In other cases, the victim didn’t report their sexual assault, sometimes out of fear that they were exaggerating the incident.
Sexual abuse at the doctor’s office can have many consequences. Along with potential physical injuries, victims might experience an array of mental issues, including depression and PTSD. After sexual assault, one-third of women report having suicidal thoughts, and another 13% attempt suicide. Other times, they may develop a distrust of medical professionals and avoid seeking medical care. This can lead to future health issues.
New Hope for Victims
Nassar faces up to 175 years in prison. His sentencing will hopefully bring peace and justice to many of his victims, putting an end to their years of suffering, and will assure that Nassar can never harm another innocent person again.
The stories of the young women at the center of the case are difficult to hear, and it was likely even more difficult for them to share their experiences with the world. But by speaking out, these brave women are bringing critical attention to the overlooked issue of sexual assault in the medical world.
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