RAINN Supports HHS Action on Non-Consensual Pelvic Exams in America’s Teaching Hospitals



RAINN Supports HHS Action on Non-Consensual Pelvic Exams in America’s Teaching Hospitals

On April 1, coinciding with the first day of Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, RAINN appladed new guidance released today from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that advises teaching hospitals to obtain written informed consent from patients before they undergo sensitive examinations while under anesthesia, like a pelvic, breast, rectal, or prostate exam, for teaching purposes. 

“This letter from HHS is a critical leap forward in protecting patients and medical residents,” said Scott Berkowitz, president and founder of RAINN. “Non-consensual sensitive exams are a shocking problem with a very simple solution: hospitals need to ask patients for consent, clearly and explicitly. This will also protect residents from having to violate the oath they take to do no harm.”

RAINN’s policy team worked with HHS to bring this issue to light. But while the HHS recommendation is crucial in setting standards, it cannot enforce this standard. That is left to the states. RAINN has passed medical abuse bills regarding sensitive exams in Idaho, and is currently advancing legislation in Alaska, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, New Mexico, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

“Without consent, sensitive exams are a glaring violation of an anesthetized patient’s autonomy, whose body is being used for teaching purposes, without consent, in a vulnerable hospital setting,” said Stefan Turkheimer, vice president for public policy at RAINN. 

Over the past two decades, multiple studies (2005, 2019) revealed that the majority of medical residents report having completed a pelvic exam on a patient under anesthetic, one survey indicating as high as 91%, with 61% saying they did so without consent.

“Requiring those in the medical profession to respect and obtain consent in all circumstances is a commitment to trauma-informed care and reinforces the importance of treating patients in a vulnerable setting with respect and dignity.”



RAINN, the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization, created and operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline. RAINN also carries out programs to prevent sexual violence, help survivors, help organizations improve their sexual assault prevention and response programs, and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice. If you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence, free, confidential help is available 24/7 by calling 800.656.HOPE (4673) or visiting hotline.rainn.org.

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