Victims of therapist sexual abuse encouraged to speak out during National Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Press Release

CCHR International
The Mental Health Industry Watchdog
April 4, 2018

With studies showing an average of 6 to 10 percent of psychiatrists and psychologists sexually abusing their patients, including children as young as three, Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) is encouraging victims of such abuse to contact it and speak out.[1]

Coinciding with April being Sexual Assault Awareness Month, CCHR also launched a petition calling for uniform laws to prosecute sexual harassment and assault of mental health patients [https://www.change.org/p/state-legislators-laws-needed-to-prosecute-psychiatrist-psychologist-patient-sexual-abuse-as-felony], calling the problem catastrophic. The sexual crimes committed by psychiatrists are estimated at 37 times greater than rapes occurring in the general community, one U.S. law firm stated, estimating that about 150,000 female patients have been assaulted.[2]

CCHR, a mental health watchdog, points to studies showing that mental health practitioners abusing their patients are often repeat offenders. A U.S. national survey of therapist-client sex involving minors also revealed one out of 20 clients who had been sexually abused by their therapist was a minor, with girls as young as three and boys as young as seven.[3]

Clinicians have compared psychotherapist-patient sexual involvement to rape, child molestation, and incest, putting victims at increased risk of suicide, according to the study, “Psychotherapists’ Sexual Relationships with Their Patients” in Annals of Health Law. [4] Such sexual assault victims commonly struggle with emotional repercussions such as: Feelings of no self-worth, denial, crying spells, paranoia, helplessness, loneliness, shame, anxiety, nightmares, insomnia, flashbacks, numbness, withdrawal, depression, fear of relationships and intimacy, and more. [5] The findings of a national study of 958 patients sexually abused by their therapist suggested that 90% were harmed and of those, only 17% recovered. About 14% of those who had been sexually involved with a therapist attempted suicide.[6]

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center which started Sexual Assault Awareness Month states, “With the #MeToo movement shining an unprecedented spotlight on this complex societal issue, it is a critical opportunity for informed news coverage to advance the public conversation.”[7] CCHR says that public conversation must include the rampant assault of women and children in the mental health system.

The group is calling for uniform therapist-sexual assault laws to be enacted throughout the U.S. and internationally. In 2016 a U.S. investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that in 49 states and the District of Columbia, multiple gaps in laws can leave patients vulnerable to abusive physicians.[8]

CCHR cites various studies in support of psychiatrist/psychologist/psychotherapist patient sexual assault laws:

  • Psychiatrists themselves indicate that 65% of their new patients inform them of previous psychiatrists who have sexually abused them. Sexual assault or rape is not just limited to females. Men are also victims of therapist sexual abuse or rape.[9]
  • A 2012 study found psychiatrists in Canada were four times as likely as other doctors to be sanctioned for sexual misconduct.[10]
  • “More spectacular cases may involve the use of drugs to sedate patients or Svengali-like manipulation of patients who perform nonsexual and sexual services,” a Los Angeles Times article on the subject reported.[11]
  • A Canadian task force on sexual abuse of patients found that patients younger than 14 years accounted for 8.7% of reports of therapist sexual abuse.[12]
  • A study published in the Bulletin of the American Academy of Psychiatry Law reported those therapists who report having sex with their patients are often repeat offenders with some surveys noting over 50% of male therapists reporting sexual involvement with more than one patient.[13]
  • Psychiatrists have an ethical obligation to expose colleagues who sexually abuse their patients.[14]
  • A survey of therapists published in the journal Professional Psychology reported that almost nine of 10 therapists said they had been sexually attracted to a patient, and 58% said they had been sexually aroused in the presence of a patient.[15]

A report in Annals of Health Law said that when sexual contact occurs in a psychotherapeutic setting, it is not unusual for the patient to have been persuaded that it was a necessary and integral part of the therapy itself.[16] The practice is referred to as “therapeutic deception,” which CCHR recommends should elicit greater penalties if used to sexually abuse a patient.

In one of the first lawsuits involving such abuse, the New York Appellate Court affirmed a trial courts decision which found that the relationship between a patient and psychiatrist was a fiduciary one, and it based liability on the psychiatrist’s misuse of his position of overpowering influence and trust to coerce a patient to have sex with him. According to the trial court, “[T]here is a public policy to protect a patient from the deliberate and malicious abuse of power and breach of trust by a psychiatrist when that patient entrusts to him her body and mind in the hope that he will use his best efforts to effect a cure.”[17]

At least 10 U.S. states specify “consent” is not a valid defense (CO, FL, GA, ID, IL, MN, NE, SD, ND, WI). Current Psychiatry referred to psychiatrist-patient sexual contact as a “boundary violation,” while acknowledging that such contact with patients is “inherently harmful to patients, always unethical, and usually illegal.”[18]

In a U.S. survey of psychiatrist-patient sex, 73% of psychiatrists who admitted they had sexual contact with their patients claimed it was committed in the name of “love” or “pleasure”; 19% said it was to “enhance the patient’s self-esteem” or provide a “restitutive emotional experience for the patient,” while others said it was merely a “judgment lapse.”[19]

CCHR says such excuses add weight to the need for uniform patient sexual assault laws, arguing that no lay rapist could argue that he “crossed the boundary,” his violent act was for the victim’s “self-esteem.”

Defrauding Insurance Companies

Some therapists that have sexually assaulted their patients add to the abuse by billing health insurance companies, fraudulently claiming they provided a “consultation.” For example, a psychologist in Florida was accused of having sex multiple times with one of his female patients and billing her insurance company $1,400 for “sessions,” according to records from the Florida Department of Health.[20]

CCHR encourages anyone who has knowledge of a psychiatrist, psychologist or psychotherapist sexually abusing a family member or friend to report this to CCHR, to call CCHR’s hotline at 1-800-869-2247, or fill out an abuse case report form [http://www.cchr.org/take-action/report-psychiatric-abuse.html] on the CCHR website.

References:

[1] “Doctor Sexual Assault Cases: Capable Philadelphia Medical Malpractice Lawyers Fight for Justice,” https://www.beasleyfirm.com/medical-malpractice/doctor-sexual-assault/; Kenneth S. Pope, “Therapist-Patient Sex as Sex Abuse: Six Scientific, Professional, and Practical Dilemmas in Addressing Victimization and Rehabilitation,” https://kspope.com/sexiss/therapy1.php
[2] “Doctor Sexual Assault Cases: Capable Philadelphia Medical Malpractice Lawyers Fight for Justice,” https://www.beasleyfirm.com/medical-malpractice/doctor-sexual-assault/
[4] Clifton Perry, Joan Wallman Kuruc, “Psychotherapists’ Sexual Relationships with Their Patients,” Annals of Health Law, Vol. 2, Issue 1, 1993, https://lawecommons.luc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.bing.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1356&context=annals
[5] Op. cit., “Doctor Sexual Assault Cases: Capable Philadelphia Medical Malpractice Lawyers Fight for Justice”
[8] “50-state review uncovers how patients are vulnerable to abusive physicians,” The Atlanta Journal Constitution, 17 Nov. 2016, https://www.ajc.com/news/national/state-review-uncovers-how-patients-are-vulnerable-abusive-physicians/MrE462LHAPKilYj3SA2crN/
[9] Op. cit. “Doctor Sexual Assault Cases.”
[10] “Psychiatrists four times as likely as other Canadian doctors to be disciplined for sexual misconduct: study,” The National Post, 6 Dec. 2012
[11] “When Doctors and Patients Become Involved : Ethics: Sexual contact between therapists and patients is not new. But now it is the subject of a growing number of malpractice cases,” Los Angeles Times, reprinting a Washington Post article, 9 Nov. 1989, http://articles.latimes.com/1989-11-09/news/vw-1375_1_malpractice-cases
[12] “Statistics & Laws Regarding Sexual Abuse by a Doctor or a Health Care Provider,” Averly Law Firm, 18 Mar. 2012, http://www.coloradosuperlawyer.com/injury-law/medical-malpractice/statistics-laws-regarding-sexual-abuse-by-a-doctor-or-a-health-care-provider/
[13] Gary C. Hankins et al, “Patient-Therapist Sexual Involvement: A Review of Clinical and Research Data,” Bulletin of the American Academy of Psychiatry Law, Vol. 22, No.1, 1994, http://jaapl.org/content/jaapl/22/1/109.full.pdf
[15] “Many Therapists Feel Rage, Fear, Desire Toward Patients,” Chicago Tribune, 12 Sept. 2013, http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1993-09-12/features/9309120024_1_therapists-patient-feelings
[16] Clifton Perry, Joan Wallman Kuruc, “Psychotherapists’ Sexual Relationships with Their Patients,” Annals of Health Law, Vol. 2, Issue 1, 1993, https://lawecommons.luc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.bing.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1356&context=annals
[17] Clifton Perry, Joan Wallman Kuruc, “Psychotherapists’ Sexual Relationships with Their Patients,” Annals of Health Law, Vol. 2, Issue 1, 1993, https://lawecommons.luc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.bing.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1356&context=annals
[18] “Psychiatrist/patient boundaries: When it’s OK to stretch the line,” Current Psychiatry, 2008 August;7(8):53-62, http://www.mdedge.com/currentpsychiatry/article/63241/psychiatrist/patient-boundaries-when-its-ok-stretch-line
[19] Nanette Gartrell, M.D., Judith Herman, M.D., et al., “Psychiatrist-Patient Sexual Contact: Results of a National Survey, I: Prevalence,” American Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 143 No. 9, Sept. 1986, p. 1128
[20] Tamara Lush, “Tampa psychologist accused of billing insurance for sex with patient,” Associated Press, 18 Feb 2010, http://www.foxnews.com/story/2010/02/18/florida-psychologist-accused-having-sex-with-patient.html.

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