As children we are all told to trust our doctors; they are the people who cure our ailments and keep us healthy. Therefore, we trust our doctors with our most private and intimate problems. A shared story among the Larry Nassar sexual abuse survivors is that they placed their trust in him as their doctor to heal them, and he violated that trust. Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics doctor, was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison after he pled guilty to ten counts of sexual assault. Over 150 women gave impact statements at his sentencing hearing, and nearly all of them asked for a sentence that would set a precedent that manipulation of trust and sexual abuse by a doctor will not be tolerated.
Medical Obligations and Malpractice
“[You] used up every ounce of innocence not only abusing me but the oath you took when becoming a doctor to respect the privacy of your patients and not play God”
One survivor noted in her testimony that Nassar took an oath as a doctor to respect the privacy of his patients and he had violated the trust of all of his patients and their families when he committed sexual assault. Another survivor began her testimony began by stating that Nassar breached his duty of care to her and did not follow the medical regulations he was under.
Although the standards for medical care vary by state, in general, doctors have a duty of care to their patients. Medical malpractice is defined as a violation of the standard of care from that injures the patient. The American Medical Association’s “Principles of Medical Ethics” lay out the ethical obligations of physicians; these include, but are not limited to, respecting human dignity, patients’ rights, and standards of professional conduct. All doctors swear the Hippocratic oath before they become begin to practice medicine; the oath calls for doctors to protect the privacy of his patients, to do no harm, and to not play God.
Sexual abuse breaches a doctor’s duty to his patient, legally, ethically, and morally. If you want to see how your state manages doctor sexual abuse cases please see http://doctors.ajc.com/states/
Consequences of Sexual Abuse for Doctors
“Talk is worthless to me… we need to demand real change and we need to be willing to be able to fight for it. It is clear now that if we leave this up to these organizations, history is likely to repeat itself”
While doctors are subject to the law, their oath, and medical board regulations, to not have sexual relations with a patient a study done by the Atlanta Journal –Constitution found that of the nation’s 2,400 doctors that were publicly disciplined for sexual misconduct with a patient, half still have their medical license today. Even more, when a medical board is composed chiefly of physicians, a doctor accused of sexual abuse is more likely to be allowed to continue practicing. Sexual abuse by doctors is often brushed off as rare; however, as Nassar’s case has shown us, rare does not mean unimportant, rare does not mean infrequent, and rare does not mean unpunishable.
Allegations of sexual abuse against Nassar began in the 1990s; however, the Michigan state disciplinary board did not revoke Nassar’s medical license until April of 2017, nearly nine months after The Indianapolis Star published an investigation of USA Gymnastics’ handling of sexual abuse and a formal complaint against Nassar had been filed with the MSU police; not to mention nearly twenty three years after dozens of sexual abuse allegations.
Effects of Sexual Abuse for Survivors
“For me, it was a girl getting out her gun and laying it on the bed just to remind herself that she has control over her own life”
Sexual assault is undeniable married to mental health impacts. Among survivors of sexual abuse, anxiety, depression, and PTSD are common diagnoses. The women who testified several discussed the lasting mental health issues they now suffer from as a result of the abuse. Anxiety, depression, and eating disorders are only the tip of the iceberg of conditions that the survivors mentioned in their testimony. Several of the survivors mentioned that they currently seek counseling to cope with the effects of their abuse, others detailed suicidal thoughts, and one mother discussed how Nassar’s abuse contributed to her daughter’s depression and eventual suicide in 2009.
Nassar is the most recent and the most infamous example of a doctor abusing his privilege to treat patients with abuse and how our system can perpetuate the cycle of malpractice and abuse.