Sexual Abuse by Medical Professionals

When you go to the doctor, dentist, hospital or physical therapist, or see other medical professionals, you trust them to treat you with respect as they care for your health. Sexual abuse by a medical professional is a serious violation of trust, medical ethics, and the law.

What can I expect in a medical setting?

When you see a medical professional for an exam, procedure, or treatment, you should expect to:

  • End the exam at any time. If anything about the exam makes you feel uncomfortable, you can let the person examining you know and they should stop right away.
  • Ask to have someone in the room. If you want to have someone else in the exam room with you, you can ask for a nurse, friend, or family member to stay with you.
  • Privacy. The exam should be in a private room or have a curtain drawn. You should also have a private place to change your clothes before and after the exam.
  • Undress to your comfort. You should only need to undress the parts of your body that are being examined, and you shouldn’t need to stay undressed for long before or after the exam.
  • Ask for an examiner of a different gender. You can ask to be seen by someone of another gender if that makes you more comfortable (but this might require picking a new doctor and might not be possible if it’s an emergency).
  • Have your questions answered. If you ask the person examining you about what they’re doing or why they’re doing it, they should answer you truthfully and right away.
  • Respect for your religion. You should be able to continue to wear religious jewelry or garments, unless they stop you from getting care.
  • Get information in the language you speak. Medical caregivers should make every effort to give you information in the language you speak. If they don’t speak your language, ask them to make arrangements to have someone interpret either on-site or through a language access line. You can also bring along a trusted friend or family member who can interpret for you.
  • Have your pain taken seriously. The person examining you should let you know if something will be painful. If you tell them it hurts and you want them to stop, they should stop right away.

What is okay and not okay during a pelvic, vaginal, breast, rectal, or teste exam?

Sometimes an exam of private areas of your body is needed to stay healthy, but it should be limited to steps that are absolutely medically necessary. Here are some things that are normal and not normal during an exam of private parts of your body.

It’s okay for the examiner to:

  • Explain each part of the exam to you before and while it is happening.
  • Use gloves.
  • Encourage you to tell them if something feels wrong or uncomfortable.
  • Is the same sex as you, if you have asked.
  • Only ask you to undress the part of your body being examined.

It’s NOT okay for the examiner to:

  • Refuse to answer your questions or tell you to be quiet.
  • Examine private parts without gloves.
  • Refuse to tell you what they are doing or why they are doing it.
  • Decline to have another person in the room with you.
  • Insist that you undress parts of your body they are not examining.
  • Ask you questions about your sexual activity that make you uncomfortable.

What can I tell my child to prepare for an exam?

You may find it helpful to talk with your child about what to expect during an exam or visit to the doctor. You can tell them why the doctor might need to touch them in certain places, and what kind of touch is okay and not okay. Talk about the visit afterwards and encourage your child to tell you if they felt uncomfortable at any point, or if anything happened during the visit that wasn't already talked about as "okay."

How can I report incidents of medical abuse?

If you think you have experienced sexual abuse by a medical professional, there are a few different ways you can report it:

  • Call 911 to report to your local law enforcement.
  • Contact the hospital, doctor’s office, or facility where you experienced the abuse.
  • Report the abuse to your state’s medical licensing board.

If you reported the abuse and did not get any help, you might want to report to another authority. If you feel comfortable doing so, keep telling people until you get help.

Additional Resources

Legal Disclaimer

The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) website provides general information that is intended, but not guaranteed, to be correct and up-to-date. The information is not presented as a source of legal or medical advice. You should not rely, for legal or medical advice, on statements or representations made within the website or by any externally referenced Internet sites. If you need legal or medical advice upon which you intend to rely in the course of your affairs, consult a competent, independent attorney or doctor. RAINN does not assume any responsibility for actions or non-actions taken by people who have visited this site, and no one shall be entitled to a claim for detrimental reliance on any information provided or expressed.

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