Sexual Assault at the Doctor’s Office: A Breach of Ethics and Trust
In the weeks following a barrage of sexual assault allegations in Hollywood, you probably saw this simple phrase trending on your social media channels. To stand in solidarity with the millions of women around the world who have experienced sexual assault and harassment, women took to social media to share their own stories of rape, harassment, assault, misconduct, and everyday misogyny and oppression.
One of the most unsettling “me too” revelations came from McKayla Maroney, a member of the United States women’s gymnastics team at the 2012 Olympics. Maroney, now 21, revealed that she was sexually assaulted by a male doctor with the women’s gymnastics team. She says the abuse began when she was thirteen, and was often under the guise of treatment. During one particularly harrowing night, Maroney says she woke up in a hotel room with the doctor after taking a sleeping pill.
The fact that her story involves a doctor makes McKayla Maroney’s story particularly upsetting. Medical professionals are supposed to be trustworthy people, worthy of access to their patient’s bodies. They see patients at their most vulnerable. Above all, they have a duty to their patients, to treat them ethically, safely, and professionally. The idea that a doctor would breach this duty by sexual misconduct is devastating.
Sexual Assault by Physicians
But it does happen. According to a study by the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, hundreds of physician are guilty of abusing patients. Many of these physicians practiced 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. Additionally, victims might stop seeing their doctor. This could prevent them from receiving critical care. Othertimes, they may develop a distrust of medical professionals, which could lead to other health issues in the future.
When sexual assault or another breach of duty occurs at the doctor’s office, it’s important to seek help. There are many resources for victims of assault, from therapists to medical malpractice attorneys to victim advocate organizations that can help victims take the next step. It is often difficult for victims to speak up and seek help, especially when their assailant is someone they know. But as more and more brave people, like McKayla Maroney, speak up, hopefully “me too” stories will become far less common.
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