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Sexual Assault in the Consulting room

October 15, 2018

Updated May 2023

From The Beginning…

A visit to her doctor for what she thought was a standard consultation led to her sexual assault.

The condition for which she sought treatment was an ‘ulcer’, and the treatment given by the doctor was a ‘stomach massage’.

At the procedure, things went contrary to her expectations.

During said ‘stomach massage,’  the lady ended up instead having her breasts and her private parts ‘handled’ by her doctor.

This is serious.

We don’t treat ulcers with a massage in the stomach or elsewhere.

That should have been the first clue that something was ‘off’.

After it was over, she felt she had no recourse to help but to share her experience on social media.

Her tweet was greeted with equal mixtures of sympathy, scepticism and blame.

This scenario was charged on so many levels.

From the lady’s experience of sexual assault to the beliefs of the people commenting on her experience  – it’s important to widen the discussion. Hopefully, we can learn and evolve to have better experiences.

How Damaging It Is…

After all, when a person (in the role of a patient) exposes the workings of their mind and body to another person believing they will/can guide them to better health, it places a lot of vulnerability on the individual who needs protecting.

The doctor-patient relationship is underpinned by trust.

It has the potential to render the patient vulnerable to the doctor in so many ways.

Some time ago, the United States Sporting world was in shock over the activities of a trusted doctor who abused young girls training in gymnastics – sometimes while their parents were in the consulting room with them.

Here’s an excerpt from a magazine article on this story.

Magazine sexual assault excerpt

What a sad representation of the medical profession – given that the majority of doctors genuinely want to help and not exploit their patients.

But it’s worse for the patient.

What’s described in this article is sexual assault.

It happens in all walks of life, and just as it’s not acceptable in the office or the street, it should have no place in the consulting room.

People may choose to disbelieve the story – and sure, some people make false claims – and the irony is that it becomes a ‘he said – she said’’ saga.

How Society Reacts

When it’s a case of 2 people alone in the room during the assault, and there’s no physical evidence of wrongdoing, how do you prove what really happened?

It’s tempting for society to ignore it – after all – how can we punish a crime we can’t prove?

But keeping silent in a situation where there was truth to the allegation means it will be repeated on more patients as the doctor feels invincible and goes unchallenged – how can that be right?

Let’s start with the victim.  It is important for people who genuinely experience sexual assault to know:

 ‘It’s not their fault.

Don’t be be silenced by people seeking to ‘play the ‘victim-blame game’; asking questions like:

‘“Why didn’t you slap him or scream out when he touched you?

“Why did you remain unless you enjoyed/planned it”  and similar unhelpful quotes that look to blame and not to solve.

Any Possible Background Events

It’s somewhat easy to forget the possible background scenes, for example:

The perpetrator has been abusing others for a while.

He may be protected by those around him who ignore his abuse, choosing to blame the victims.

They (people around the doctor) may have also been assaulted by him or even gain some benefit from silence or find it inconvenient to question or challenge him.

In addition, while he’s got the advantage of foresight and prior planning, the victim is least expecting it.

It is true – yes!, that some ladies will react and attempt self-defence.

The fact that someone else didn’t does NOT in any way make them liable or responsible for the assault.

But here’s a further confounding factor:

In some societies, healthcare consultation is still quite ‘doctor-centred’

Some patients don’t realise they have rights and the mechanisms in place to protect them in their most vulnerable periods.

Fortunately, the recently launched Nigeria Patient Bill Of Rights, if robustly implemented, will create greater awareness and possible changes in consultation mechanics.

Often at a consultation, what the doctor says goes largely unquestioned.

Patients feel they have no alternative because it’s too expensive to see another doctor, or they don’t know enough to question the information they get.

Preventing Sexual Assault in Consulting Rooms

How can people prepare themselves for a doctor’s consultation with the issue of vulnerability in mind?

The chaperone principle – is not so widely used YET in Nigeria – but it’s crucial to have it as a policy in all establishments practising medicine to protect patients & doctors.

chaperone is an independent person, appropriately trained, whose role is to independently observe the examination/procedure undertaken by the doctor/health professional to assist the appropriate doctor-patient relationship. GMC guidance in Good Medical Practice 2013.

For obvious reasons, having a chaperone in your consultation reduces the incidence of scenarios like this one. It avoids assault in the consultation room, inappropriate behaviour, and accusations that are difficult to prove or blackmail.

How many people request a chaperone or know they can have a chaperone if they wish when consulting? And how many doctors offer a chaperone?

So the benefits of a chaperone are quite clear, and the prescription for this problem is one of prevention rather than cure. We encourage a lot more practitioners to offer chaperone services, especially dealing with members of the opposite sex.

More Reading

Editing by AskAwayHealth Team


All AskAwayHealth articles are written by practising  Medical Practitioners on various healthcare conditions to provide evidence-based guidance and help promote quality healthcare.  The advice in our material is not meant to replace the management of your specific condition by a qualified health care practitioner. To discuss your condition, please contact a health practitioner or reach us directly

Image Credits – Canva

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