“Sexual contact between a doctor and a patient, even if ostensibly consensual, is strictly forbidden. In ethical terms, it’s a never event. In a legal sense, it can be a crime. Physicians know it’s a line that can’t be crossed — it’s a prohibition as old as the Hippocratic Oath.” —The Atlanta Journal- Constitution article Licensed to Betray
Online database documents sexual assault committed by psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health professionals
By CCHR International
The Mental Health Industry Watchdog
October 31, 2017
Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR), a mental health industry watchdog, says that amidst the growing reports of sexual abuse and intimidation coming out of the entertainment industry, the systemic sexual abuse of patients within the mental health industry must be brought to public attention. According to CCHR, since allegations of sexual abuse against Harvey Weinstein broke, 15 psychiatrists and psychologists have committed sexual violations, including those criminally charged or found guilty, had their licenses to practice suspended or revoked, or had civil charges brought against them for sexual violations.* CCHR urges all victims of sexual assault committed by mental health professionals to speak out.
The group says in its public database of criminal and disciplinary actions committed by mental health industry personnel, nearly a third of criminal convictions are for sexual abuse committed by psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists and counselors including the sexual assault of children. In 2016, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation culminated in an article headlined, “Licensed to Betray,” the journalists noted that while society condemns sexual misconduct when committed by citizens and demands punishment, yet when a physician is the perpetrator, the nation often looks the other way. It further stated that “layer upon layer of secrecy makes it nearly impossible for the public” to know the extent of the abuse.
According to a study published in the Bulletin of the American Academy of Psychiatry Law, “While estimates vary across studies, it is widely held that 7 to 10 percent of male and 1 to 3 percent of female therapists report having had sexual intercourse with one or more patients. Those therapists who report having sex with their patients are often repeat offenders with some surveys noting over 50 percent of male therapists reporting sexual involvement with more than one patient.”
Kenneth S. Pope, Ph.D., reported in his book, Sexual Involvement with Therapists: Patient Assessment, Subsequent Therapy, Forensics, that research studies also suggest that at least 50 percent of all therapists will encounter a least one patient who has been sexually abused by a previous therapist.
Until the passage of state laws in the United States—many of which CCHR worked to obtain—making it a criminal offense for psychiatrists and psychologists to have sexual relationships with their patients, mental health professionals could abuse patients entrusted to their care with impunity or claim it was “consensual.”
There are now 26 U.S. states that have criminalized various aspects of psychiatrist, psychologist and psychotherapist sexual contact with patients. Consent is not a valid excuse. Of a sample of 120 mental health practitioners that CCHR documented in recent years who were convicted for sexual crimes in the U.S., more than two-thirds of the offenders were in states that have enacted such statutes.
Several of the sexual assaults in the sample were against children, one as young as nine years old while one was only four years old. Dr. Pope says that in a national survey of therapist-client sex involving minors revealed girls as young as three and boys as young as seven were abused.
Psychiatric-psychologist abuse of patients may often be referred to licensing boards, not courts. Public Citizen, an advocacy group, conducted a study of physician sexual misconduct in the National Practitioner Data Bank over a period of 10 years ending in 2013. Published in 2016, it concluded that a full two-thirds of those doctors with strong evidence of sexual misconduct against them had not been disciplined by medical boards. This is evidence, CCHR adds, of the continued secrecy and complicity shrouding such abuse. The national repository is where state medical boards, peer review committees and malpractice insurers report physician wrongdoing. The data bank was established by Congress, but is meant to be used by hospitals and other health care organizations before hiring a doctor.
“Sex Addiction” is not an Excuse for Abuse
CCHR says that the prevalence of sexual misconduct against actors/actresses in Hollywood is now becoming transparent and the same disclosure and discussion should take place where it is happening in other sectors of society. The parallel to therapist-patient abuse is that the psychiatrist or psychologist has a position of power, which can be used to intimidate the patient.
Therapists often excuse such conduct in much the same as some perpetrators in Hollywood use “sex addiction” to excuse their behavior. In a U.S. survey of psychiatrist-patient sex, 73 percent of psychiatrists who admitted they had sexual contact with their patients claimed it was committed in the name of “love” or “pleasure;” 19 percent said it was, for example, to “enhance the patient’s self-esteem” or provide a “restitutive [compensatory] emotional experience for the patient,” while others said it was merely a “judgment lapse.”
Current Psychiatry also referred to psychiatrist-patient sexual contact as “crossing boundaries or “boundary violations.” It acknowledged that such contact with patients is “inherently harmful to patients, always unethical, and usually illegal.”
CCHR advises that perpetrators of patient sexual abuse should not have their behavior excused as “misconduct” or the result of a “sex addiction.” David J. Ley Ph.D., writing in Psychology Today said that “sex addiction” is a “pseudo-scientific pop psychology phenomenon.” Explaining further, he wrote: “Using the sex addiction label with offenders puts the blame and responsibility for these sexual crimes on the perpetrator’s supposed addiction and on the effects of a disease process rather than placing responsibility on the individuals themselves.” Furthermore, “I’m a sex addict, it’s not my fault” should not be a “get out of jail free card.”
The Atlanta Journal reported, “Sexual contact between a doctor and a patient, even if ostensibly consensual, is strictly forbidden. In ethical terms, it’s a never event. In a legal sense, it can be a crime. Physicians know it’s a line that can’t be crossed — it’s a prohibition as old as the Hippocratic Oath.”
Laura S. Brown, a clinical professor of psychology at the University of Washington, said any sex between therapist and patient “is an abuse of a vulnerable person by a person that should know by virtue of their training that this is harmful.” Further, “This is not just an affair.” In other words, there are no excuses, CCHR says.
Blaming the Victim
Some psychiatrists claim that the patient is at fault because of their mental illness —“masochistic personality disorder” — that drives their therapist to abuse them. Dr. Richard Simons contended to The New York Times in 1985 that it was important to identify “masochistic personality disorder” in women, which can take the form, for example, of her repeatedly choosing boyfriends who beat her up. Dr. Simons further described the example of “patients who unconsciously provoke therapists either to give up on them, or sadistically abuse them….” Whatever the “unconscious motives may be in an individual case the final behavioral outcome is the achievement of…’victory through defeat,’ and often the defeat is failed psychiatric treatment,” Simons stated.
CCHR’s co-founder, the late Dr. Thomas Szasz, professor of psychiatry emeritus summed up psychiatric-therapist sexual abuse of patients as: “This is intellectual bankruptcy compounded by moral paralysis. The assertion that sexual contact…may be therapeutic for the patient is self-serving and stupid. Using it to justify such sexual contacts is illogical and immoral.” Sexual abuse of anyone is self-serving, immoral and wrong, adds CCHR. It offers its Report Abuse hotline should anyone wish to confidentially report any act of sexual abuse by a mental health therapist. Click here to report abuse online or call 1-800-869-2247.
*Psychiatrists/Psychologists with Action Taken Against Them for Sexual Violations in the Last Five Weeks
There have been 15 psychiatrists and psychologists who were criminally charged or found guilty, had their licenses suspended or revoked, or had civil charges brought against them for sexual violations with patients since early September 2017:
- Sept. 9, 2017: Kenneth Breslin, a child psychologist in northern California, was scheduled to be sentenced in October for possession of child pornography, including images of children under age 12.
- Sept. 21, 2017: Psychiatrist Joshua Gibson surrendered his medical license to the Medical Board of California after the Board discovered he’d settled a lawsuit brought by a female former patient for sexual battery, sexual contact and other charges on the agreement that neither party would cooperate with the Medical Board’s investigation into his sexual relationship with her.
- Sept. 29, 2017: The Florida Board of Medicine suspended psychiatrist Ely Pelta’s license for sexual misconduct involving a patient to whom he sent sexually suggestive text messages. In 2006, Pelta came under criminal prosecution for trading treatment for sex with a female whom he plied with tranquilizers. The case fell apart when the patient declined to testify.
- Oct. 2, 2017: Australian psychiatrist Robert Hampshire lost his appeal to be able to continue practicing while under investigation for making a number of lewd and sexually-related comments to a patient via phone and text.
- Oct. 4, 2017: Michigan psychologist Joseph Jeney was charged with criminal sexual conduct for engaging in a sexual relationship with a former patient for more than a month.
- Oct. 5, 2017: The UK General Medical Council revoked the license of psychiatrist Thomas Jenkins after he was arrested for “inciting a boy of 13 to engage in sexual activity” via the internet. A judge placed Jenkins on the sex offender registry for five years.
- Oct. 5, 2017: Psychologist Timothy Murphy, who is also an eight-term Pennsylvania state representative, announced his resignation from Congress, after it was revealed that he’d had an extramarital affair with woman whom he’d asked to have an abortion.
- Oct. 6, 2017: Wyoming psychologist Joshua Popkin was convicted of sexual assault charges, stemming from accusations by two female patients that he used his position of authority as a psychologist to have sex with them.
- Oct. 6, 2017: Massachusetts psychiatrist Timothy Bunton lost his medical license following a criminal conviction for using a computer to solicit a minor.
- Oct. 12, 2017: Twelve female former patient filed a civil lawsuit against New Mexico psychiatrist Alan Emamdee, accusing him of sexual abuses and assaults. (The suit follows his July 2017 arrest on charges of criminal sexual penetration involving a 40-year-old female patient.)
- Oct. 12, 2017: California Medical Board filed summarily suspended psychiatrist Leon Fajerman’s license relative to complaints of sexual assault by three patients.
- Oct. 12, 2017: Blaise Wolfrum, Illinois psychiatrist, license summarily suspended for “inappropriate contact” with minor patient.
- Oct. 19, 2017: French psychiatrist Jean-Paul Guittet was suspended for three months on charges that he raped a female patient in 1989.
- Oct. 23, 2017: Ontario psychiatrist Ravi Shenava was in court on trial on charges of sexual assault involving five female former patients. One plaintiff testified that she had sex with Shenava in exchange for his signature so that she could obtain disability benefits.
- Oct. 23, 2017: The Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners placed psychiatrist Dan Nicolau on indefinite probation for charges including having been convicted of aggravated burglary and stalking of a female patient with whom he’d “entered into a romantic relationship.”
 Carrie Teegardin, Danny Robbins, Jeff Ernsthausen and Ariel Hart, “License to Betray,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, http://doctors.ajc.com/doctors_sex_abuse/?ecmp=doctorssexabuse_microsite_nav.
 Gary C. Hankins et al, “Patient-Therapist Sexual Involvement: A Review of Clinical and Research Data,” Bulletin of the American Academy of Psychiatry Law , Vol. 22, No.1, 1994, http://jaapl.org/content/jaapl/22/1/109.full.pdf.
 Kenneth Pope, “Sex Between Therapists and Clients,” Encyclopedia of Women and Gender: Sex Similarities and Differences and the Impact of Society on Gender, (Academic Press, Oct. 2001).
 Susan Cutti, “Report on physician sexual abuse stirs alarm,” CNN, 12 July 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/11/health/doctor-sexual-abuse/index.html.
 Nanette Gartrell, M.D., Judith Herman, M.D., et al., “Psychiatrist-Patient Sexual Contact: Results of a National Survey, I: Prevalence,” American Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 143 No. 9, Sept. 1986, p. 1128.
 “Psychiatrist/patient boundaries: When it’s OK to stretch the line,” Current Psychiatry, 2008 August;7(8):53-62, http://www.mdedge.com/currentpsychiatry/article/63241/psychiatrist/patient-boundaries-when-its-ok-stretch-line.
 David J. Ley Ph.D, “Sex Addiction Should Not Be a ‘Get out of jail free,’ Card,” Psychology Today, 16 Aug. 2012, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/women-who-stray/201208/sex-addiction-should-not-be-get-out-jail-free-card.
 Nancy Bartley, “Abusing The Trust — Ruined Careers, Damaged Lives: Sex Between Therapist And Patient Can Be Devastating,” Seattle Times, 4 April 1993, http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=19930404&slug=1694111.
 “New Psychiatric Symptoms Spur Protest,” The New York Times, 19 Nov. 1985, http://www.nytimes.com/1985/11/19/science/new-psychiatric-syndromes-spur-protest.html.
 Herb Kutchins & Stuart A. Kirk, Making Us Crazy: The Psychiatric Bible and the Creation of Mental Disorders,” (The Free Press, New York, 1997), pp. 129-130..