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.