In today’s modern day and age, with the rise of unexpectedly innovative technology and treatments, physicians are expected to live up to the golden rules of ethics. Reality shrouds itself behind this false perception: sexual abuse by physicians happens surprisingly often. While victims of abuse go years facing physical and emotional difficulties, most doctors end up unpunished, often continuing to engage in torturous human rights violations.
The human rights community does not pay attention to healthcare professionals complicity in torture, cruel and inhumane treatment, or even rape; it has generally focused oncases like the Nuremberg trials, or the participation of psychiatrists in the interrogations at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. The cases of physicians abusing their patients-specifically women-despite being reported, are often ignored. Courts traditionally have shown deference to the medical “expertise” that is presented before them or have been reluctant to investigate claims of what truly is appropriate medical practice. Repeatedly, there is not enough evidence of the sexual abuse or rape, due to lack of witnesses or due to the disposal of medical tools or devices that could contain traces of genetic or scientific evidence for rape. International human rights bodies, such as the European Court of Human Rights, or the ICCPR, have had limited opportunities to address such cases on whether acts of sexual abuse by medical professionals constitute as torture, or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment (CIDT).
Because doctors save lives on the daily, American women, men, and children place great trust in their physicians, which is often violated by the doctor treating his/her patients inappropriately. Not only does this violate rights of the patient, but also ethical and moral codes in medicine. Medical ethics, the system of moral principles for judgements and practice of clinical medicine and research, is based on a set of values that include respect for autonomy, nonmaleficence, beneficence, and justice. The four main values are abstract, vague ideas that can be argued to include, or not include rape, sexual harassment, and torture. Though the World Medical Association, at a global level, has encouraged doctors to respect their commitment as physicians to humanity and resist pressure to act against the principles of ethics that they should abide to on a regular basis at their clinics, a large number of doctors continue to engage inactions that violate ethical and moral medical principles. In an investigation conducted by Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC), over 100,000 medical disciplinary records from 1999 to2016 were analyzed, and it was found that over 3,100 doctors across the United States ofAmerica had been found guilty of sexual misconduct; they had abused patients, harassed employees, and participated in the viewing and filming of child pornogrophy. The most egregious finding of all was that half of these said physicians still have medical licenses, and sometimes walked away with the lightest of punishments, for the most horrific of crimes against patients.
In a survey of 500 women, conducted by the Women's Health and anti-sexual violence group RAINN (the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network), 27 percent said that they had been violated by a doctor, reporting experiences of lewd comments, mastrubation, and even rape. Some patients were sedated while they were sexually abused, while others were going for a general exam or checkup. The aftermath of sexual abuse for victims is equally horrifying; for years after, women who are sexually abused may have difficulties confronting the realities of the horrific actions they endured at the hands of one of the most trusted professionals, their doctors. Sexual violence is proven to lead to depression, sleep disorders, and involvement with drugs and alcohol. One in three women who are raped contemplate suicide, according to the RAINN survey; 13% of women who are raped attempt to end their lives. Shockingly, 25% of women who survive sexual abuse by their physicians continue to see them, for various medical and economic reasons. Most sexual abuse survivors often don’t report the attacks by doctors to authorities, or even to close friends and loved ones, due to extreme amounts of embarrassment and shame. Along with this, women abused by their physicians often end up distrusting any professional in the field, or fear entering healthcare facilities. This can lead to ramifications suchas a lack of necessary treatment for serious conditions, or missing out on counseling and other advisory practices.
Overall, the actions of physicians that constitute CIDT, rape, sexual abuse, or harassment must be recognized, condemned and combated; only by raising awareness for these abuses and expanding rights of patients, will these torturous physicians and abstract ethics codes be effectively addressed so that patients can report harassment by physicians without feeling shameful for the situation in which they have so unfairly been placed. Perhaps then, the hippocratic oath can truly be realized.
The morning sky was choked with fog and laced with the aroma of coffee from the nearby café when I arrived to the local library in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. Upon realizing that the library was not open for another hour, I put down my books and pulled out my phone, trying to keep myself occupied.
A woman walked up the steps to the library and attempted to open the doors, turning the door knobs with increasing frustration and annoyance before stepping away and beginning to pace. Her curly grey hair was askew and a faded crocheted purse dangled from her wrist. Her pacing stopped abruptly as her panicked eyes locked with mine and mumbled, "Excuse me, ma'am? May I borrow your phone, I gotta call social services. I gotta."
I nervously obliged, handing her my phone.
Her face broke out into a smile before quickly morphing into a frown ridden with anxiety, her forehead furrowed. "Oh, but ma'am? I don't know how to use a smart phone, and I don't have the number for social services. Can you call them for me?"
I offered her a sympathetic smile and accepted my phone back, looking up the number for social services as the woman carried on friendly conversation. I pulled up the number for the local social services station before dialing and offering the phone back to her, but she shook her head and backed away from the phone. "Can you call them for me? My hands don't work so good, it's cold, I don't like talking to people, I don't know how to use this." I smiled again, and nodded before placing the call.
As the phone rang, she woman crouched down and examined my face, and began to speak. "I know your sister Katherine, yeah, she's off with that dude. She could do better though, and her face is really breaking out, you should tell her to do something about that." She stood up abruptly and began to pace again, muttering to herself about various people.
The thing is, my sister is not named Katherine.
She is not dating any boys,
she has no acne,
and she most certainly has never met this woman before.
That was when it became clear that this woman might be dealing with some mental health issues, and I became concerned for her well being. Between her anxiety about the phone and the muttering to herself about various people, it became clear that she needed aid and I patched her though to the social services offices of Portland, Maine.
She thanked me with enthusiasm before taking the phone and began talking with the office of social services. She sat down next to me on the bench as she detailed how she was living out of her car, had been on disability since 2005, was currently broke, and in dire need of assistance. The call lasted for about fifteen minutes, ending with her being given an appointment time two hours from then at the local office. She hung up and handed me back the phone.
She rummaged through her tattered purse before producing a half burned cigarette, her eyebrows knit together in concentration. She took a drag of her cigarette and expelled the smoke into the hazy sky. "I don't have a GPS, and these meetings are always bullshit. I've had a counselor since 2005, and look where I've ended up. I've had two representative repayees for my social security checks, but both of them didn't work out. I'm desperate. I've been desperate for years now. I'm so desperate. I've been arrested three times now, each time I've violated the conditions of my release because I'm technically not allowed to drink, but gosh, I need to drink. The last time I got released, they said I could finally drink because I must really need it."
Her last sentence grabbed my attention, how could a law enforcement officer allow her to continue to drink and not provide help for her substance problem?
She took another drag of her cigarette before continuing. "Yeah, they said if I mess up my conditions of release again, I'll get a bail of a thousand dollars. I met a young man in jail, 20 years old. He was on bail for 50,000 dollars. He sold heroin to an undercover, the dude was real jittery before his hearing. All he was worried about was his girl on the outside and if she had enough money to get by without him. Real sad stuff."
I was caught off guard completely, and couldn't help but feel a pang of sympathy for her. She continued to rattle off a long list of drugs and substances she'd done, reminiscing on how it "helped her ignore the pain," and "continue on for this long."
When the cigarette between her fingers finally burnt down to the filter, she pressed the smoldering end into the ground and put it out before dropping the butt back into her purse. She stood up, smoothing her skirt and readjusting her shirt, embroidered with the local police station logo. She gave me a large grin before thanking me immensely, promising me she would go to her appointment at the social services office. She took down my name and phone number, promising that one day, when she was back on her feet, maybe she would buy me lunch. I watched her walk away from the library and turn a corner, disappearing from sight.
Later that afternoon while at a local restaurant, I overheard some waitresses discussing "the crazy lady in town" and her antics from that morning. I turned to them and asked them to describe her, before realizing with a sinking feeling that they were discussing the woman I had met this morning. The waitresses continued their conversation, laughing and exchanging stories of how she got kicked out of various local bars, had stood up on stage during a local band's performance and had started singing until she cried, and was "off her rocker." I turned my back on the conversation and resumed eating, anger building in my chest. The fact that the locals knew this woman was clearly struggling, and did nothing but watch her misery and struggle and laugh about it during their work shifts angered me. Something needs to change.
Upon further thinking, I have reached the conclusion that the social services within the town and state have not done enough to help those in need of mental health service or those that are in the grips of substance abuse. While I acknowledge that the stories the woman recounted may be slightly warped due to her mental instability and substance abuse, the fact that the local waitresses and other local residents are familiar with her behavior and living situation, proves that this woman is in a difficult situation and is in need of assistance. The town of Boothbay Harbor, and the state of Maine, must do more to provide mental health aid and substance abuse aid to those in need. There was no pay phone available in the town for the woman to use and call for assistance, and going to the police station may have been intimidating and impractical for someone who is dealing with addiction to illegal substances and has mental instability and anxiety. There must be an easily accessible public pay phone for people to use and call for help should they seek it.
Furthermore, the local law enforcement officers must intervene and act when someone is faced with the hardship of substance abuse, poverty, and mental instability. The woman had been arrested three times, and while she did not feel comfortable disclosing the reasons behind her arrests, it is clear that the prison system failed due to the fact that she was arrested and jailed, yet again. This proves that the correctional system is not effective nor productive for those who have broken laws, deal with substance abuse, or are in poverty, and should these rules and protocols must be reformed. Additionally, the woman recounted stories of others who had been arrested for other substance related charges, all of them faced with poverty and trying to make an income. The local law enforcement should make an effort to be a resource for those struggling and in poverty, and direct those who are in the grips of drug addiction to a recovery center or shelter, that way arrests for possessing or selling substances are reduced and those in need of mental health service or those trying to make a living are given alternatives and a way to sustain themselves until they are given the aid they require and are stable again. This is crucial, given that Maine is in the midst of an opioid epidemic.
Lastly, local towns should provide a safe space or shelter, and be alert to those who may require assistance from the shelter. Since the woman and many others in poverty may be unable to pay for or access or schedule appointments for basic healthcare or psychiatric care, the shelter should try to aid these people or monitor their wellbeing so they do not continue to worsen or continue on without any help.
Torture? Check. Enforced Disappearance? Yes. Inhumane and unjust imprisonment?
Unfortunately. Murder? Affirmative.
That’s where the debate begins.
The Russian state of Chechnya has been in the midst of atrocities targeting the gay population for the past
few months. Hundreds of men have been detained by Chechen authorities and subjected to inhumane
treatment, torture, and sometimes murder. The arrests of gay and bisexual men began in April, and was
only made public after a reporter of the newspaper Novaya Gazeta revealed that “at least 100 men had
been rounded up and jailed at secret prisons on suspicion of being gay...at least three have been
killed...others detailed horrific torture and beatings before being released with the threat of relatives carrying out ‘honor killings.’” While only a few men were murdered, all were subjected to “beatings and electrocutions, demanding [of] information about who you were dating”(NYT).
This reporter has since gone into hiding for fear that the Chechen government will take actions against
him for exposing this iniquity. Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, denies that this situation is occurring within Chechnya, and continues to receive support from Russian president Vladimir Putin. Several countries, including France and the United States, have condemned the actions of Chechen authorities in this anti-gay pogrom, but only one group, a French gay rights group, has filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court and accused the Chechen government of committing genocide, and more governments and organizations must do the same. Quite frankly, the international community’s response to this atrocious situation has been nothing but disappointing, as the United States recently denied the request to grant visas to those who are fleeing the persecution present in Chechnya. The International community must declare the persecution occurring in Chechnya as genocide, and demand that Chechnya immediately stop the senseless killing and detainment of gay men and provide reparations for those affected. Until the declaration is made,
international pressure in the form of sanctions and investigations by the UN must be applied.
The international community defines genocide as “the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a
national, ethnical, racial or religious group”(Genocide Convention). While sexual orientation is not
explicitly mentioned as a group that genocide can be committed against, the acts of detainment, torture,
and murder against the gay community displays the intent to destroy, in part, a specific group of the
national population, which is why this must be classified as genocide. Furthermore, the gay community
clearly follows religion that is less orthodox or traditional, as traditional religions do not allow for
homosexuality. Because these communities overlook traditional religious obligations unlike the rest of the
Chechen community, they are in part being persecuted because of religion.
To classify these actions as anything else would be a step backwards for human rights as a whole,
as this is a mass cleansing of the portion of the Chechen population that identify as homosexuals or
bisexuals. Additionally, failing to classify this horrifying event as anything but genocide would allow for
other groups who aren’t traditionally valued in a religious system to be persecuted similarly.. By
classifying this atrocity as genocide, appropriate measures could be taken by the UN to ensure nothing as
horrific as this recurs.
Beyond just classifying the situation in Chechnya as genocide, the international community must
take action to hold Chechnya responsible and ensure that the detainment, torture, and murder of gay and
bisexual men stops immediately. This must be done through the imposition of trade sanctions on both
Chechnya and Russia because the economy tends to be a large motivator for state actors and through
economic deficit caused by the unified imposition, Chechnya may be forced to address and halt the
heinous actions against the Chechen gay community. International pressure must also be created in the
form of press statements in order to further push Chechnya to take appropriate actions to stop the
persecution and provide remedies and reparations to those affected. Until Chechnya agrees to stop the
persecution, detainment, torture, and murder of those in the gay community, a special rapporteur for the
UN must be sent to continue investigating what the lone reporter dared to say.. More information must
come to light on the secret these killings.
Hundreds of brothers, fathers, uncles, friends—humans—are being systematically persecuted by
the Chechen government. In absolutely no circumstance can this deliberate extermination be excused as
anything but genocide, and in absolutely no way can the International Community remain complacent.
Justice must be brought to those who have and still are suffering through torture, murder, and detainment.
We must push our governments to apply more pressure and conduct more investigations for the sake of
justice and upholding human rights.
We must classify the situation in Chechnya for what it is: Genocide.