The Los Angeles Times has analyzed California medical board data and found that since the fall of 2017, there has been a 62% increase in complaints against physicians for sexual misconduct.
Has the behavior of physicians changed so radically during this time period? Experts say no. Most agree that the activism surrounding the #MeToo movement has made more victims feel comfortable coming forward. Additionally, the national attention that the Larry Nassar abuse scandal received may have changed attitudes towards physicians accused of sexual assault. When allegations were first levied against Nassar, he faced almost no repercussions. A Title IX investigation initiated by Michigan State University cleared him of all wrongdoing, and Nassar even ran for school board after being accused of sexual assault. He received 2,700 votes. His status as a well-respected physician seemed as though it would shield him from abuse allegations.
However, shortly after child pornography was found on his personal computer, public perception began to radically shift. More and more victims came forward, including multiple Olympic athletes. Nassar is currently serving the rest of his life behind bars.
It is possible that the Nassar case could have emboldened sexual assault survivors to come forward with allegations, especially those who may have otherwise feared doing so due to the status of the abuser. Just last week, 48 former students came forward with abuse allegations against a former University of Southern California campus health doctor, alleging that he molested them under the guise of performing a medical examination.
The Medical Board of California has the power to take away a doctor’s license if it determines the physician has behaved inappropriately and violated the terms of that license. Anyone may file a misconduct complaint with the board, which will then be investigated.
During the most recent fiscal year, the California medical board received 11,406 complaints against physicians, the most it has ever received. Complaints of sexual misconduct are among the fastest-growing type of allegation. Since mid-2017, 23 California physicians have lost their medical licenses due to sexual misconduct. The loss of license often coincides with criminal charges filed against a physician.
Each state in the U.S. has a similar medical board, which is responsible for licensing physicians and ensuring compliance with the requirements of those licenses. The increase in sexual assault complaints in California echos a trend occurring nationwide. From late 2017 to the present, medical boards across the country also noticed a surge in sexual misconduct complaints, according to the nonprofit Federation of State Medical Boards.
Representatives from medical boards across the United States said in their annual survey last year that sexual harassment violations were among the most important topics to them. The Federation of State Medical Boards has launched a working group on sexual boundary violations and is studying policies and trends related to sexual misconduct by physicians and plans to share new recommendations in 2020.