Almost like clockwork, every few weeks these days, we see another story about an abusive doctor. Each one seems to be more alarming than the one before. In October, two news outlets, ProPublica and the Salt Lake City Tribune, ran a stunning investigation under the headline, “She Trusted Her First OB-GYN Because He Spoke Spanish. Now She’s 1 of 94 Women Suing Him for Sexual Assault.”
-In September, a California newspaper ran this story: “El Camino Health faces new questions over employing doctor accused of molesting teenager decades ago while a Catholic priest.”
-In August, prosecutors announced a litany of sexual crime charges against Dr. Zhi Alan Cheng of New York City, who reportedly sexually abused three patients at a medical center and raped three other women in his apartment.
-In July, Dr. Robert Hadden, a gynecologist who sexually abused dozens of vulnerable and trusting patients for over two decades at prestigious New York hospitals, was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
We could go on and on. Much like the Catholic child molesting clergy crisis that erupted into public view years ago, “bad” doctors are finally attracting public attention. That, of course, means more of them are being caught and punished. But not nearly enough. We all recall a few of the more high-profile abusive doctors who have made headlines in recent years:
- Dr. Larry Nassar, the long-time team doctor of the United States women’s national gymnastics team, was charged with sexually assaulting at least 265 young women and girls under the guise of medical treatment.
- Dr. Robert Anderson, a sports doctor at the University of Michigan, reportedly molested dozens of student-athletes over more than five years.
- Dr. Robert Strauss died by suicide in 2005, but he reportedly abused at least 177 students and athletes during his time at Ohio State University.
Cases like these can make many patients complacent about the safety of the doctors they see regularly. Why? Because the implication is that younger people are more susceptible and less well-informed, and predatory physicians gravitate toward those patients. But the sad, simple truth is that abusive doctors, just like abusive clerics, seek out and find victims in every age group. Though we’d like to believe otherwise, many of us are susceptible to the charms, deceits, and manipulations of a highly educated professional who is determined and savvy enough to spot and exploit our deepest vulnerabilities.
In fact, doctors exploit the same power, with a slight twist, that clergy exploit: the power over life and death. With religious figures, it’s, of course, eternal life. With physicians, it’s often the here-and-now life. In both situations, those of us seeking help are often afraid, confused, and feel like we’re ‘out of our depth’ and at the mercy of those who are more well-educated than we are, especially when we turn to these often-revered figures during times of crisis.
There is, however, an even more critical similarity between bad doctors and bad clerics: the usually quiet, internal ‘systems’ for reporting abuse by these powerful figures – primarily designed by their peers and supporters – are inherently problematic. Time and again, in this blog, we at Horowitz Law have exposed how church processes for reporting and dealing with abuse are deeply flawed. Church panels are stacked with people closely tied to the hierarchy. There are few or no real protections for victims, witnesses, or whistleblowers. Decisions are made slowly and in secrecy. The accused is given every possible benefit of the doubt. Excuses are repeatedly made on behalf of the offender, like “Well, now he’s very old and unlikely to hurt others” or “At that point in his career, he had a drinking problem, but he’s sober now.”
All of these weaknesses or inadequacies are also found in the ‘systems’ through which victims of abusive physicians are told to report their pain. Several years back, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution did a lengthy investigation into the disciplinary process for accused doctors. It is a sobering read.
Among other findings:
- Sexual abuse by doctors against patients is surprisingly widespread, yet the fragmented medical oversight system shrouds offenders’ actions in secrecy, allowing many to continue to treat patients.
- Only 11 states require medical authorities to tell law enforcement when doctors have sexually violated adult patients.
- Of more than 2,400 doctors sanctioned after being accused of sexual misconduct involving patients, half still have active medical licenses.
- Many cases reported involving doctors “remain obscured because state regulators and hospitals sometimes handle sexual misconduct cases in secret.”
- Some public orders (of discipline against doctors) “are so vaguely worded that patients would not know that a sexual offense occurred.”
More recently, the Columbus Dispatch also investigated doctors who sexually exploit their patients. Not surprisingly, their findings are equally revolting. The Dallas Morning News did a similar investigation, focused on bad dentists. It, too, revealed shocking cases and inadequate investigatory and discipline processes.
So, what’s the takeaway here? If a bad doctor or dentist hurt you, you are not powerless if you hire a competent, experienced attorney and avail yourself of the admittedly imperfect but time-tested US civil justice system. If you opt instead to jump through the more secretive and biased internal reporting system, your chances of achieving real justice by exposing wrongdoers and protecting others are much more slim.
NOTE: A number of predatory clerics have left or been ousted from church positions and then later became doctors. Fr. John H. Wisner Jr. of Kansas and Fr. Michael Brewer of Colorado/Missouri are two among them.
Horowitz Law has filed numerous sexual misconduct claims against healthcare professionals on behalf of clients who were sexually assaulted at hospitals, private practices, sleep centers, and rehab centers. If you have been a victim of sexual assault or sexual battery while under the care of a healthcare provider, or if you know someone who has, please contact our law firm at (888) 283-9922 or send an e-mail to sexual abuse lawyer Adam Horowitz at [email protected] for a free consultation.