When I was a youngster, my mother often talked about those naughty girls who accused their doctor of fathering their child. Imagine the nerve of them. Poor men, etc., etc. That’s why doctors always had to pay an office nurse to stand by, to protect them from bad girls.
It wasn’t until my husband, Dr. Harvey Armstrong, served on the 1991 Special Task Force on Sexual Abuse of Patients by Physicians that I realized that my mother, like the rest of the world, refused to believe that physicians used their power to sexually abuse vulnerable patients.
The role of the College of Physicians and Surgeons is to protect the public. With this purpose in mind, the College formed the task force. Task force hearings were expected to last about a week. The week turned into seven months of hearings as more than 300 patients, male and female, came forward to tell about being sexually abused by physicians.
The task force was made aware of serial predators, physicians who had violated huge numbers of patients.
Women were often named as perpetrators.
For my husband, the experience of listening to all those patients disclosing their abuse, was incredibly painful. He was proud of belonging to his respected profession. He was fully aware of the power over and therefore the responsibility physicians have to their patients. Week after week, names of trusted friends came up.
The power imbalance between physician and patient is too great. That’s why it’s wrong. In fact, any time there is a situation of power-over, sex is wrong. There cannot be true consent when the other is an authority figure. This is true for priest-parishioner, teacher-student, youth leader and his charges, or any adult-child relationships.
Whether you agree with what I’ve said or not, I’d like to hear from you.