DANGER IN THE EXAM ROOM: Doctors Who Sexually Assault Patients

doctor sexual assault lawsuitby Adam Horowitz

Many people incorrectly assume that an act of sexual assault by a physician cannot happen to them because it is rare and a person with substantial education and elevated status would never commit such a heinous act. Both of these beliefs are completely inaccurate.

Sexual assaults by doctors can occur to patients of all ages. It is not limited to children or the elderly.  Further, there are absolutely no studies revealing a connection whatsoever between one’s education level and the likelihood of committing sexual assault. Sadly, perpetrators come in all shapes and sizes. Sexual assault by doctors is woefully underreported because patients, typically women or children, feel uncomfortable coming forward. Alternatively, they feel they will not be believed.

Sexual misconduct by doctors falls into three main categories:

(1) A romantic relationship with a former or current patient;

(2) Gaining sexual access by falsely indicating it is a part of treatment; and

(3) Sexual assault by making unwanted, uninvited sexual contact.

Each of these acts constitutes sexual misconduct and can be the subject of a criminal complaint or civil lawsuit. Moreover, they are all considered unethical by the American Medical Association and can result in professional discipline for the doctor or licensed healthcare provider. In many of these cases, doctors have used their power and the vulnerability of their patients to touch patients in places that the patients did not need or wanted to be touched. There are certain settings in which patients are particularly vulnerable for sexual assault. Patients under anesthesia are particularly at risk if they do not have a family member or friend with them. There are many reported cases involving patients under anesthesia who experienced non-consensual “pelvic and genital exams” and/or stripping of their underwear and gown against their wishes.

Some of the cases in the news recently include the following:

1) Dr. Charles Sheehan of Rockford, Illinois is accused of sexaully assaulting at least 12 of his patients — many of them elderly and disabled — over a period of years. Dr. Sheehan was an in-home physician and he is alleged to have had intercourse with at least one of his mentally disabled elderly patients.

2)  Dr. Robert Kevess, a former Tang Center doctor in Oakland, California was arrested in 2011 on suspicion of sexually assaulting six male patients. One of the alleged victims reported that Dr. Kevess touched him for an excessively long time during a genital and rectal exam, which made him feel “uncomfortable.” He alleged that he later received a message from Dr. Kevess on a dating website, and was invited to visit Dr. Kevess at his home.

3) Doctor Charles Dehaan, a physician in Des Plaines, Illinois, operated a business called House Call Physician’s Group and beginning in 2009 he was hired to make monthly check ups on a Des Plaines woman.  According to the criminal complaint, under the pretext of performing a physical medical examination, Dr. Dehaan began fondling the breast and genital  area of the victim while exposing himself.

4) Dr. Troy Westbrook, a Connecticut physician, faced criminal charges alleging that he sexually assaulted female patients in an exam room at the Community Health Center in Clinton. According to published reports, one of the women testified that Dr. Westbrook asked her how many sex partners she had in her life, and also if she was involved “in any bizarre sexual acts.” He then opened her gown and began feeling one of her breasts, then both at the same time, “in a caressing, loving kind of way,” she testified. He touched parts of her breast that doctors had never touched before, she said, twisting and pinching her. The rubbing went on for up to two minutes, she said. Most of the time, he didn’t say anything. He then performed a “pelvic exam” in which he repeatedly put his fingers in her, she testified.

One common theme we often see in cases of sexual assault by medical providers is that there are often multiple victims of the same perpetrator. Studies on the psychology of sexual predators have taught us that predators will often continue to re-offend when their misconduct is not reported or goes unpunished. It is therefore critical for assault victims to report their assault to law enforcement and the Department of Health. Not only will you be standing up for yourself and holding the perpetrator accountable, but you will also be protecting another patient in the future. There is strength in numbers and we often see that when one victim has the courage to come forward that other victims and whistleblowers come forward as well.

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted by a physician or at a doctor’s office or hospital, it is important to have experienced legal counsel. Our attorneys are experienced in handling cases involving sexual assault by doctors and other medical personnel. If you have a been a victim of sexual assault by a doctor in a hospital or medical office, or if you know someone who has, please contact our law firm at (954) 524-2820 or send an email to sexual abuse lawyer Adam Horowitz at [email protected]