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Thousands of Sexually Abusive Doctors Protected By “Culture of Secrecy”

Dr. David H. Newman, accused of groping emergency room patients.

Dr. David H. Newman, accused of
groping emergency room patients.

Dr. David H. Newman, accused of groping emergency room patients.[/caption]In a speech to medical students at the University of Virginia, former clinical research head at Mount Sinai Hospital and ethics lecturer Dr. David Newman said, “[Patients] believe in us. They have faith in us, it’s almost religious. We need to use that privilege in a way that will better their care.”

In March, Dr. Newman was accused of sexually abusing four of his patients, one of whom claims the doctor ejaculated on her while she was sedated. He now faces up to 7 years in prison.

Dr. David Mata was named Oregon Family Doctor of the Year in 1995. He has since been accused of 140 counts of sexual abuse, 6 of which he has pleaded guilty to. Dr. Mata was charged with 5 years probation, which he served at home. He is now eligible to reapply for his medical license.

A yearlong investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution discovered a “culture of secrecy” surrounding sexual abuse in the medical profession rivaling that of the Catholic Church.

The report found that over 3,100 American doctors have been publicly disciplined for sexual misconduct since 1999. 2,400 of them abused their patients. The sexual abuse took place in all 50 states, with behavior ranging from verbal harassment to rape, and against patients ranging from infants to 80-year-old women.

Most frighteningly of all, half of the 2,400 doctors still hold their medical licenses.

The investigation began last year when reporters found that two thirds of Georgia doctors that had been penalized for sexual abusing patients were still practicing.

“One thing we found that was shocking to us is some of these doctors are the most prolific sex offenders in the country, with hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of victims,” said AJC reporter Carrie Teegardin.

According to many medical board members, however, this behavior does not necessarily disqualify doctors from continuing their jobs.

“If they can be safely monitored and rehabilitated, I don’t see why they can’t come back from drugs, alcohol or sexual misconduct,” said Vann Craig, former executive director of the Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure. Craig cited the high cost of training doctors as a reason to give multiple chances to doctors with track records of sexual abuse.

However, sometimes a second chance is one too many. Take Dr. Oscar Almeida Jr. of Alabama, who sparked numerous complaints that he was fondling, kissing, and performing unwarranted vaginal exams on his female patients. When the Alabama medical board revoked Dr. Almeida’s medical license, the Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure was happy to provide him with a new one. In fact, according to the board, Dr. Almeida “would be an asset to the State of Mississippi.”

It is distressing that state medical boards opted to ignore and conceal so many complaints of sexual abuse in their field, because there are remedies to this behavior. How much easier would it have been to provide male doctors with chaperones when examining female patients than to deal with the onslaught of criminal and civil lawsuits now arising because sexual abuse? How much patient trauma could have been avoided?

To steal a line from accused sexual offender Dr. David Newman’s book, “The truth is, the real secrets of modern medicine are protected by tradition, group think, and system constructs that punish inquiry and self-examination.”

Doctors’ position of authority puts them in a unique position to take advantage of their patients. “We are so reliant on them,” explains David Clohessy, executive director of the advocacy group SNAP. “We are so helpless and vulnerable and literally in pain often times when we go in there. We just have to trust them.”

Sources: Galli, Cindy, Brian Ross and Cho Park, “The New Sex Abuse Scandal: 2,400 Doctors Implicated by Patients,” ABC News, 6 July 2016.

Newman, David H., “Hippocrates’ Shadow: Secrets from the House of Medicine,” Simon & Schuster, 2008.

Teegardin, Carrie, Danny Robbins, Jeff Ernsthausen and Ariel Hart, “A broken system forgives sexually abusive doctors in every state, investigation finds,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.