What Is Misconduct?
The number of sexual misconduct complaints against health-care professionals is increasing at an alarming rate. A 1992 study by the Federation of State Medical Boards reported charges that year against 132 medical doctors in 42 states, compared with charges in 1990 against 84 doctors in 35 states--and the tide of complaints continues to rise. Of those medical doctors whose cases received formal board action, approximately half lost their licenses to practice their profession. 1 A 1994 study by the Federation of Chiropractic Licensing Boards likewise found that, across North America, misconduct complaints against chiropractors also are on the rise. 2
These allegations of sexual misconduct are creating casualties on all sides: doctors who lose their licenses, practices, or reputations; patients who are traumatized by inappropriate or abusive behavior, or behavior that they perceive as abusive; and health-care professions that are publicly humiliated or singled out for unflattering media attention.
Sexual misconduct is, to say the least, a very complex problem. It encompasses issues of sex, gender, power, and communication, as well as, in some cases, a real pathology on the part of the health-care professional.
Sexual misconduct occurs when the fiduciary aspect of the health-care relationship is compromised. "Fiduciary" is a legal term that is applied to a professional in whom a client (in this case, the patient) places his or her trust. Because such professionals are in positions of power relative to their clients, the law holds them to a higher standard of behavior. They are required to place the interests of their clients above and before their own. A comprehensive, even exhaustive, exploration of this and related topics is presented in the book SexualAbuse by Professionals: A Legal Guide