Doctors and sexual assault
After seeing your story ‘Sexual Assault: the role of the examining doctor’, I have a suggestion to make. Would it be possible for your journal to also examine the issue of doctors who sexually violate their patients during physical examinations?
I speak from personal experience. My doctor misused his physical examination and completely destroyed my trust. He did this under the guise of an “examination technique” (I must make it clear that there was no sexual penetration), thereby confusing me further. I kept asking myself if I was being oversensitive / critical / paranoid.
I belong to a privileged and upperclass family. I developed tuberculosis some years ago and went to my family doctor who also happens to be my uncle.
On the second visit to my doctor I was assaulted in a manner which left me completely confused as to whether it was part of the examination or whether I was being sexually violated. On my third visit my initial reaction was just to get out of the clinic. My fears that I was being sexually assaulted were confirmed when I walked out of the examining room and found that I was the only one in the clinic and that the main door was locked.
In one respect your article did cover part of my experience. After the last assault I went immediately to a lady general practitioner in my neighbourhood to verify whether the ‘method’ chosen for examination by my doctor was really necessary. While telling her what happened I momentarily broke down. Her reaction was: “For God’s sake stop all this crying.” At the time her only interest was to know the name of the doctor. After I told her, she said, “I don’t know him,” and dismissed me. I had the feeling that it was a piece of gossip as far as she was concerned.
In retrospect I thank her for her attitude. Her reaction toughened me for the coming months which as I’m sure you know are terrible as the victim invariably replays the scene and the sense of anger coupled with frustration is as fresh as it was the first time. I still do not know what action I could have taken since the onus of proof is invariably on the woman and this means revealing details which make the emotional recovery that much longer.
I believe it is essential to investigate this trauma that I am sure many women undergo. It is made all the more unfortunate by the fact that even after an assault the patient often goes back to the same doctor because of ‘faith’ in his healing abilities or the belief that a patient’s accusation will not hold much water against the doctors respectable position. Either way it is rare for the doctor to be exposed or for any action to be taken against him.
Is there some way in which your magazine could tackle a subject like this? Is there any way for a victim to approach medical authorities without the accompanying trauma that a police investigation ensures?
V K Ram, via the internet
- D’Souza,Lalitha. Sexual assault: the role of the examining doctor. Issues in Medical Ethics 1998;6:113-116