The Atlantic Journal-Constitution released a year-long investigative report on Tuesday documenting the minimal punishments doctors who have been found guilty of sexual abuse receive. Of nearly 2,400 physicians sanctioned for violations involving patients, more than half were permitted to keep their licenses by medical boards. Since many state and medical boards allow such sanctions to be tried privately, the figure almost certainly understates the problem.
The American Medical Association states that any sexual contact between a patient and their physician constitutes sexual misconduct, yet many medical boards have permitted a large number of doctors to continue practicing after being found guilty of sexual abuse. In Georgia and Kansas, two-thirds of such doctors were allowed to keep their licenses, while in Alabama and Mississippi, those numbers rise to three-fourths and four-fifths, respectively.
Dr. David Mata, once named Doctor of the Year in Oregon, was accused of 140 counts of sexual abuse by patients. After pleading guilty to six counts, he was given probation, rather than a prison sentence. Over the course of the three-year investigation, Dr. Mata was permitted to see patients.
According to the investigative report’s findings, medical boards have largely relied on non-punitive measures to address sexual violations. Some doctors who perpetrate sexual offences will be directed to recovery centers while others will simply attend a weekend’s worth of “boundary” classes before returning.
Medical boards have several incentives for handing down light punishments. It minimizes attention, encourages doctors to admit guilt, and most importantly, keeps doctors, which are increasingly in short supply, available.
“We are so reliant on [doctors], we are so helpless and vulnerable and literally in pain often times [when] we go in there… We just do not want to believe, first of all, that a doctor is capable of this, and secondly that their colleagues and supervisors will not address this immediately and effectively when we report it,” said David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, tells The Atlantic Journal-Constitution.
Carrie Teegardin, a reporter on the AJC investigative article, told The New York Times, “Some of these doctors are the most prolific sex offenders in the country, with hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of victims.” She adds, “It’s treated with a sort of secrecy that we don’t see in other arenas when we’re talking about allegations this serious.”
Read the full report on the Atlantic Journal-Constitution website.