Doctors have a variety of rationales, excuses and defenses when accused of sexual misconduct with patients — and many have faced such accusations. An investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that thousands of doctors nationwide over the past 16 years have raped, molested, humiliated or sexually exploited their patients.
Here are some of the explanations offered by the accused, according to public disciplinary orders from across the nation reviewed by the AJC.
‘It was a therapeutic technique.’
In Indiana, a doctor — not trained as a psychiatrist — said his “therapeutic” sexual relationship with a bipolar patient was consensual and helped to “treat her emotional illness and … her self-esteem.” A Virginia doctor accused of kissing patients said it was a mind-body technique in his cardiology practice. “Over the years, I have developed a sensation of what people seem to need,” he told the medical board. A California doctor accused of molesting a dozen women during exams gave a detective several reasons why he kissed the breast of one massage patient. Among them: She was bipolar. And she thought she was a lesbian.
‘She was too tempting.’
Even though the patient protested, a Washington doctor said he could “see it in her eyes” that the patient wanted to have sex and took the “look” as an invitation. In a Kentucky case, a doctor said the patient “was very provocative in the way she dressed and in her mannerisms.” A Florida doctor told one of the six women he was accused of violating, “I’m sorry, you are just so irresistible.”
‘The patient is unstable, vengeful or lying.’
A New York doctor said the nine women who accused him were “attention-seeking women with histories of substance abuse and mental illnesses that distorted their perception.” In Kentucky, a doctor was accused of repeatedly molesting a woman he treated for anxiety related to sexual abuse as a teenager. He blamed her accusation on his rejection of her advances.
‘I’m stressed or have a health problem.’
Two doctors in Colorado cited personal problems — one said he was depressed about the failing health of his father, and the other had sex with a patient during “a time of stress in his life” when he was diagnosed with a sleep disorder. A California psychiatrist, working at a jail where he sexually abused inmates, said his work at the jail made him “over time feel anxious, stressed and threatened.” A Hawaii doctor blamed his actions on the breakup of his marriage, telling one victim he was just a “person going through a divorce” and that “worse could happen” to her.
‘She had control over me.’
An Ohio psychiatrist treated a patient who had been sexually abused as a child. During a session, he told her to disrobe in his office and masturbate in front of him. They also had sex. “I could not get her to stop. I know now that … if I was armed with more knowledge, I could have gotten her to stop.” In Washington, a gynecologist said he believed one of the patients he had sex with was “abusing him” and had control because of her threats to report him to medical authorities.
‘Everyone makes mistakes.’
A Maryland doctor appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, repeatedly referring to “bad choices in personal relationships” and the “poor choices” that “two adults” make. A Connecticut doctor accused of raping a patient told the woman’s father “all human beings make mistakes and that talking … we could resolve problems.”
‘It was medical care, not sex.’
In Arkansas, 10 women testified against a doctor, saying he groped their breasts and groin while making sexual comments. His attorney argued the doctor was justified in touching them because the women consented to the exam. Plus, the lawyer said, the doctor didn’t have an X-ray machine. A Florida doctor said the “special technique” he developed to rub women’s breasts relieved pain in other parts of their body, but later admitted he had a breast fetish. A California OB/GYN rhythmically stimulated four patients’ clitoris during pelvic exams and claimed he “was never trained to be careful to avoid sexually stimulating a patient during a pelvic exam.” He later said the patients misperceived his actions. “Even though I did not intend to sexualize the exam, I fully understand how they perceived that it was a sexualized exam.”