Ryon Horne/AJC

The team behind this project

  • Danny
    Robbins

  • Carrie
    Teegardin

  • Ariel
    Hart

  • Jeff
    Ernsthausen

  • Ryon
    Horne

  • Richard
    Watkins

  • Lois
    Norder

This endeavor was anchored by a core project group: reporters Ariel Hart, Danny Robbins and Carrie Teegardin; data reporter Jeff Ernsthausen; videographer Ryon Horne; digital designer and illustrator Richard Watkins, and senior editor for investigations Lois Norder.

Deputy managing editor Shawn McIntosh supervised the project overall. Senior editor for data journalism Scott Peacocke was project manager and supervised the website, which was designed by news application developer Emily Merwin, with assistance from data technical director John Perry, developers Saurabh Datar and Ashlyn Still, and news application intern Kiersten Schmidt.

Design for the print newspaper and e-editions were directed by managing editor Mark Waligore, and designed by ArLuther Lee.

Michelle Miller, Jim Pelfrey and Colleen McMillar copy edited the project. Senior editor for visuals Sandra Brown was in charge of photos and videos. Senior manager for outbound audience development Michelle Kerr, audience development specialists Lauren Colley and Adam Carlson, digital content manager Jaime Sarrio and managing editor Monica Richardson were responsible for content distribution.

Other reporters who worked on the project were Johnny Edwards, Alan Judd and Jennifer Peebles of the AJC; Mario Guevara of MundoHispanico, a Cox sister publication; interns Jerrel Floyd, Becca Godwin and Jane Hammond, and freelancers Fred Broschart, Carolyn Crist, Todd Leopold, Kirsten Rasmussen and Cameron Tankersley.

Others who contributed to the project include: SEO manager Brian O’Shea; editor Maria Bastidas of MundoHispanico; senior managing editor Bert Roughton; senior manager for consumer marketing Drue Miller; audience engagement manager Leigh-Ann Oberg; WSB-TV investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer; WSB-TV investigative producer Josh Wade; WSB-TV interns add Leighton Rowell and Adhiti Bandlamudi and MundoHispanico photographer Miguel Martinez.

Contact the team: doctors@ajc.com

How the Doctors & Sex Abuse project came about

As is often the case with investigative reporting, this series in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution grew out of other work. Reporter Danny Robbins was examining orders by the Georgia Composite Medical Board for his 2015 stories on prison medical care. In doing so, he saw orders allowing doctors to continue practicing after a finding that they had sexually violated patients.

He compiled those orders, discovering about 70 cases clearly involving sexual misconduct. And in about two-thirds of those cases, he was shocked to find, doctors either didn’t lose their licenses or were reinstated after being sanctioned. That included doctors who had repeatedly crossed the line with patients.

To see if Georgia was an exception, the AJC hired a legal researcher to study laws governing medical practices in every state, as reporters gathered studies and looked for cases around the country, compiled from news reports and other public sources. That work raised questions about the pervasiveness of doctor sexual misconduct. The research, and periodic scrutiny from other news organizations, also suggested that doctors were treated differently from other sexual offenders.

So the AJC decided to examine the system that is supposed to protect patients from predator doctors. At first, we submitted public records requests to medical boards or other regulatory agencies in every state, seeking databases identifying doctors who had been disciplined and the reasons for their sanctions. Nearly all said they didn’t keep such data, and only a few provided other information addressing our requests.

At that point, our data journalism team wrote computer programs to “crawl” regulators’ websites – a process known as scraping – and obtain board orders. This required building about 50 such programs tailored to agencies across the country. That collected more than 100,000 disciplinary documents. To assist us in identifying those involving sexual misconduct, we then created a computer program based on “machine learning” to analyze each case and, based on keywords, give each a probability rating that it was related to a case of physician sexual misconduct.

We then read all the documents in over 6,000 cases to determine the nature of each case and board action. We eliminated cases completed before 1999 and duplicate orders when a doctor was licensed in more than one state.

That work set the stage for additional reporting. Over the past year, the project team sought other records, interviewed victims, doctors, regulators and experts and completed other research. To contact the reporting team, email doctors@ajc.com.

The team behind this project

  • Danny
    Robbins

  • Carrie
    Teegardin

  • Ariel
    Hart

  • Jeff
    Ernsthausen

  • Ryon
    Horne

  • Richard
    Watkins

  • Lois
    Norder

This endeavor was anchored by a core project group: reporters Ariel Hart, Danny Robbins and Carrie Teegardin; data reporter Jeff Ernsthausen; videographer Ryon Horne; digital designer and illustrator Richard Watkins, and senior editor for investigations Lois Norder.

Deputy managing editor Shawn McIntosh supervised the project overall. Senior editor for data journalism Scott Peacocke was project manager and supervised the website, which was built by news application developer Emily Merwin, with assistance from data technical director John Perry, developer Ashlyn Still and news application intern Kiersten Schmidt.

Design for the print newspaper and e-editions were directed by managing editor Mark Waligore, and designed by ArLuther Lee.

Michelle Miller copy edited the project. Senior editor for visuals Sandra Brown was in charge of photos and videos. Senior manager for outbound audience development Michelle Kerr, audience development specialists Lauren Colley and Adam Carlson, digital content manager Jaime Sarrio and managing editor Monica Richardson were responsible for content distribution.

Other reporters who worked on the project were Johnny Edwards, Alan Judd and Jennifer Peebles of the AJC; Mario Guevara of MundoHispanico, a Cox sister publication; interns Jerrel Floyd, Becca Godwin and Jane Hammond, and freelancers Fred Broschart, Carolyn Crist, Todd Leopold, Kirsten Rasmussen and Cameron Tankersley.

Others who contributed to the project include: SEO manager Brian O’Shea; editor Maria Bastidas of MundoHispanico; senior managing editor Bert Roughton; senior manager for consumer marketing Drue Miller; audience engagement manager Leigh-Ann Oberg; WSB-TV investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer; WSB-TV investigative producer Josh Wade; WSB-TV interns add Leighton Rowell and Adhiti Bandlamudi and MundoHispanico photographer Miguel Martinez.

Contact the team: doctors@ajc.com