It seems like a no-brainer: a doctor who sexually assaults his patients should have his license permanently revoked. But Illinois lawmakers are just starting to think that maybe they shouldn't let rapists be gynecologists.
After a Chicago Tribune series called attention to the massive failure to protect patients against known sexual offenders in the doctor's office earlier this year, Illinois state legislators have been shocked and shamed into coming up with bills to address this glaring problem.
The case that really set the wheels in motion involved Chicago gynecologist Bruce Smith, who was permitted to keep poking around in women's genitalia for nine years after being accused of raping an eight-month-pregnant patient by holding her down in stirrups (his DNA matches her rape kit and he was finally brought to trial this year). During the years following that rape, he managed to rack up sexual assault or harassment complaints from another seven women.
Yet when the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation finally got around to taking action in 2009, they suspended his license for a mere nine months: the administrative judge, Michael Lyons, wouldn't even add a few more months because the department hadn't proved Smith performed an unwanted tubal ligation. Sure, Lyon determined that the doc had sexual assaulted or harassed three women, but that alone hardly warrants a whole year suspension.
A woman's gynecologist is one of the last people she wants to worry about being a rapist: she's already permitting herself to be put in an extremely vulnerable, exposed position, and that requires trust in her doctor. While allowing any doctor with a history of sexual assault or misconduct against a patient strikes me as unacceptable, there's a special kind of horror knowing that your gynecologist could have raped other patients and been back at the exam table nine months later.
A handful of potential pieces of legislation are being considered by various Illinois lawmakers; unfortunately, most are inadequate.
The most promising legislation to date was introduced by State Rep. Jack Franks (D-Marengo): his bill would "mandate revocation in the cases of doctors convicted of sexual assault or battery of a patient, and not just those involving felonies." Now, as long as that's a permanent revocation, we're getting somewhere. Don't forget to require that sexual assault/harassment complaints be investigated and addressed in a timely manner, and provide the resources to do so.
Tell Illinois state lawmakers that rapists have no place practicing medicine.
Photo credit: Tess Watson