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How Do Hospitals Handle Sexual Abuse Claims?

December 3, 2021  ·  By HM&M


When a hospital admits a patient, its team of medical professionals and staff are expected to take all necessary steps to help the patient leave their care in a much better state than when they arrived. 

However, while the overwhelming majority of doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals invest their mental and emotional energy and skills in caring for patients, a disturbing number of them do not. 

Investigative reporting has shown that more than 3,100 doctors faced public accusations of sexual misconduct between 1999 and 2015. That number may be higher; many sexual abuse cases in hospitals go unreported or dismissed.

So, what happens when a claim is reported?

How Hospitals Manage Sexual Abuse and Sexual Assault Claims

When sexual abuse occurs in hospitals, all members of that hospital who are aware of the abuse must follow protocol to report that abuse to relevant hospital staff and/or authorities. Each hospital or hospital network likely has its own set of steps to follow. 

Ultimately, it’s the hospital or medical organization’s responsibility to ensure that:

  • The abuse ends immediately.
  • The accused doctor is not given a chance to potentially abuse future victims.
  • That the abused patient is safe and has the proper resources needed to deal with the trauma.

However, too many sexual abuse cases not only go unreported, but are elaborately covered up. Because doctors and medical professionals are often viewed as in positions of power, many victims fear they won’t be believed or think that they’re the only victim—and the perpetrators rely on their professional stature and network to hide wrongdoings. 

We explain what patients should do if they’ve suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a doctor or medical professional, and how hospitals should respond to this information.

Learn More About Sexual Abuse at Medical Practices

What to Do If a Doctor Sexually Abused You

Before we detail how to proceed, it’s essential that you know that you are not alone. We understand that suffering sexual abuse by a doctor or medical professional can be one of the most isolating and painful experiences, but you have resources and support.

Know that your bravery to come forward can be the encouragement another victim may need to come forward as well. Unfortunately, it’s common for doctors and others in positions of power who sexually abuse patients to do so more than once. 

Sexual abuse perpetrators get away with their crimes too often, generally because they are protected by their networks. Coming forward may reveal (and end) a medical professional’s pattern of abuse.

HMM’s Mark McKenna shares details on what happens when you file a complaint against a doctor and the next steps you should take.

>>> Related read: 6 Actions to Take If You’re a Patient at a Private Equity-Owned Medical Practice

Who Do You Turn to When You’ve Experienced Sexual Abuse?

While it is the hospital’s responsibility to report and follow through on all cases of sexual abuse, this is often not how victims’ experiences pan out. In too many instances, hospitals cover up sexual abuse claims by claiming the patient experienced hallucinations or intense dreams due to anesthesia or medications. Some go as far as to suggest that patients simply didn’t understand the procedure. 

However, sexual abuse occurs in many procedures that do not require any examination of a patient’s genitals or breasts—or anything relatively close to being misconstrued as routine. 

Ultimately, it is in your best interest to reach out to relevant authorities. Reporting sexual abuse to a family member, trusted friend, partner, authorities, or those who have power over your abuser is an excellent first step. 

Here are a few avenues for reporting sexual abuse:

  • Call the police or sheriff’s department: If you do not trust the hospital to look into your claim, or want to remove and doubt that they will cover up your claim, reach out to your local authorities. 
  • Contact your state’s medical board: These agencies are responsible for investigating sexual abuse claims and have the authority to revoke a doctor’s license or follow through on appropriate disciplinary action. However, some states’ boards won’t take anonymous claims or accept claims online. It’s best to call or meet in person if possible. 
  • Reach out to an advocacy organization: There are several organizations dedicated to helping sexual abuse and rape survivors, including RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual abuse organization.
  • Rely on an experienced sexual abuse law firm: Seeking justice, compensation, and healing through a lawsuit is one of the most effective ways to ensure your sexual abuse does not go unreported or dismissed. 

>>> Related read: When and How You Should File a Complaint Against Your Doctor

Trust Hurley McKenna & Mertz to Represent You and Your Sexual Abuse Case

Coming forward and braving the pain of your sexual abuse can be incredibly challenging—but it is often one of the most important steps in healing. We have helped thousands of sexual abuse survivors stand up to their abusers and receive the justice and compensation they deserve. 

Contact us today for your free consultation to learn how we can do the same for you.

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