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Sex Abuse. 2019 Aug;31(5):503-523. doi: 10.1177/1079063217712217. Epub 2017 Jun 19.

Sexual Violation of Patients by Physicians: A Mixed-Methods, Exploratory Analysis of 101 Cases.

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1 Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO, USA.
2 Saint Louis University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO, USA.
3 Loyola University Chicago, Stritch School of Medicine, Chicago, IL, USA.


A mixed-method, exploratory design was used to examine 101 cases of sexual violations in medicine. The study involved content analysis of cases to characterize the physicians, patient-victims, the practice setting, kinds of sexual violations, and consequences to the perpetrator. In each case, a criminal law framework was used to examine how motives, means, and opportunity combined to generate sexual misconduct. Finally, cross-case analysis was performed to identify clusters of causal factors that explain specific kinds of sexual misconduct. Most cases involved a combination of five factors: male physicians (100%), older than the age of 39 (92%), who were not board certified (70%), practicing in nonacademic settings (94%) where they always examined patients alone (85%). Only three factors (suspected antisocial personality, physician board certification, and vulnerable patients) differed significantly across the different kinds of sexual abuse: personality disorders were suspected most frequently in cases of rape, physicians were more frequently board certified in cases of consensual sex with patients, and patients were more commonly vulnerable in cases of child molestation. Drawing on study findings and past research, we offer a series of recommendations to medical schools, medical boards, chaperones, patients, and the national practitioners database.


medical ethics; medical professionalism; patient abuse; physician wrongdoing; sexual abuse

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