Study Shows Sexual Misconduct is Highly Prevalent In Health Practitioners

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A landmark study on sexual misconduct complaints against health professionals to health regulators shows a shocking statistic. About one in every 5 notified practitioners have more than one complaint of sexual harassment or assault against them.

Today the study was published online in the Medical Journal of Australia. In the study, researchers found that health regulators receive around 1,507 notifications of sexual misconduct for every 1167 of the total 724,649 registered health practitioners.

They discovered that the health practitioners against whom there were complaints were (0.2%) during the years 2011 to 2016, 208 practitioners (18%) however had more than one report against them. 381 notifications (25%) were of supposed sexual relationships while 1,126 (75%) were notifications of sexual assault or harassment.

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Marie Bismark is the lead author of the study as well as an associate professor and professor of Public Health Law at the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health. She discussed how seeing multiple complaints of sexual misconduct against some health practitioners begs an important question of whether such conduct can be amended or whether these practitioners in question need to be kicked out of the profession entirely.

It is imperative, she says that we assess which actions are effective and which type of practitioners can enjoy being remediated and which type is likely to act in this manner again.

She recounts how it’s normal to hear regulators making it obligatory for professionals to attend courses on ethics. She believes there isn’t enough good evidence on the matter to show that such obligations to attend a course on ethics against participants will change their practice in any way.

Bismark and her colleagues took data from the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency as well as NSW Health Professional Councils Authority regarding notifications on sexual misconduct and analyzed the data from 2011-2016.

From their research they discovered:

  • Notifications of sexual relationships were more prevalent for psychiatrists; there were about 15.2 notifications per every 10,000 practitioner years. They were also more frequent for psychologists with 5.0 for every 10,000 practitioner years, while general practitioners had 6.4 notifications per 10,000 practitioner years.
  • Compared to practitioners in metropolitan regions, the rate was higher for rural or regional practitioners.
  • Notification data shows male practitioners were more frequently complained against than their female counterparts. On average, male practitioners were 37 times more likely to be notified against sexual harassment or assault than a colleague that is female.
  • Sexual misconduct notifications were of larger proportion than other categories of misconduct and often led to impositions of regulatory sanctions.

Bismark and colleagues however also highlighted further three areas that required deeper investigation.

They wrote about how strategies are needed for a reduction in obstacles to notifying regulators of sexual misconduct. They pointed out how The Medical Board of Australia has established recently a national committee to answer and deal with sexual misconduct notifications and has since then trained investigators with significant specialist expertise for this.

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Secondly, they talked about how the sexual harassment or misconduct among colleagues should also be looked into with the added goal of giving practitioners adequate training so that they can practice ethically and report or investigate misconduct in health professions. They also called out for the need of having concrete evidence those regulator interventions for preventing such misconduct prove effective.

They emphasized the right of the public to see concentrated efforts are done to prevent sexual misconduct in health care and that thorough investigation for allegations take place consistently.

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