Sexual Abuse Complaints
Do you think a doctor may have violated a boundary with you or otherwise engaged in sexual misconduct or abuse? Please call us.
Has a doctor done something to make you feel uncomfortable? Maybe he or she touched you in a way that you felt was not medically necessary or appropriate. Perhaps he or she said something sexually suggestive to you, or didn’t give you privacy when undressing before a physical examination. If this is the case, please contact the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario.
As Ontario’s medical regulator, the College is the body that investigates all complaints against doctors in the province – including sexual abuse complaints. We have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to sexual contact between a doctor and a patient – even when that contact would otherwise be considered consensual. Each year, the College receives inquiries and complaints from patients who believe their physician may have crossed a sexual boundary with them. If you think you have had such an experience with an Ontario doctor, we urge you to contact us at 1-800-268-7096 ext. 629.
We recognize that coming forward with a complaint about sexual abuse can be very difficult. Here are answers to some questions you may have before you take this step:
What kinds of concerns does the College address?
The College reviews a wide range of concerns that are raised by patients. Complaints of a sexual nature may involve:
Privacy and respect: This could include a doctor not providing you with enough privacy while you were putting on a gown or getting dressed after an examination.
Inappropriate comments or gestures: This could include saying something sexually suggestive to you, asking you out on a date, or remarking on your attractiveness.
Unnecessary or improper physical examinations: This could mean subjecting you to more frequent breast, genital or pelvic examinations than would be considered medically necessary, or conducting a physical examination in a sexual rather than a medical way.
Sexual contact or assault: This encompasses everything from inappropriate touching to rape. It also includes any sexual contact between a doctor and patient that would otherwise be considered consensual.
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What happens when I contact the College?
When you call us for assistance or to make a complaint, you will speak to our Intake Coordinator. She has specific training in the area of sexual abuse and has a background in social work. She is very familiar with the College’s complaints and discipline processes and can give you an idea of what to expect. She does not take statements or conduct investigations. You can speak to her anonymously, you can use an alias, or you can arrange to meet with her in person. Again, her number is 1-800-268-7096 ext. 629. If you then decide to make a complaint, the matter is transferred to an investigator for a formal investigation.
Should you decide to make a complaint, an investigator will contact you to discuss your concerns and obtain additional information. If you prefer, you can meet in person. The investigator will ask you to explain what happened as clearly and in as much detail as you can possibly provide. You will be asked to sign a consent form so that he or she can obtain your medical records.
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What about confidentiality?
Coming forward with a complaint about sexual abuse can be incredibly difficult. We recognize that concerns about privacy may be foremost in your mind. While you may contact the College anonymously and make inquiries in a general sense, once you reveal the doctor’s identity the College may initiate an investigation. The reason for this is that the College has an overriding obligation to protect the public. If the information provided is concerning, the College may have no choice but to act on that information. These requirements are designed to ensure the general public is protected while the matter is being investigated. You should be aware that in the course of an investigation in which you are the complainant, the College must disclose your name to the doctor who is being investigated in order to give the doctor an opportunity to respond.
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What happens when the College receives a complaint?
What happens first?
Your complaint is handled with the utmost seriousness. Provincial legislation requires that we fully investigate all complaints, and each complaint is considered by our Inquiries, Complaints and Reports Committee.
Is the doctor notified?
Yes. Legislation requires us to notify the doctor of your complaint, and the doctor is given the opportunity to respond to it. He or she will also be required to provide a copy of your medical records to the investigator. Upon receiving the doctor’s response the investigator may discuss it with you.
Is anyone else contacted?
The investigator may contact other people with information about your complaint. The investigator may also obtain documents such as hospital, OHIP or pharmaceutical records. The investigator will request your consent to obtain these materials.
What happens next?
When the investigation is complete, all the material gathered by the investigator is given to the Inquiries, Complaints and Reports Committee. Neither you nor the doctor attends the Inquiries, Complaints and Reports Committee meeting. The Committee reviews all of the information and decides what should happen.
What are the possible outcomes at Inquiries, Complaints and Reports Committee?
The Committee will decide to do one or more of the following with the complaint:
Refer the concerns about the physician to the Discipline Committee.
Direct or accept the physician’s agreement to participate in training to improve his or her practice.
Require the physician to appear before the Committee to be cautioned. At that appearance, the panel will discuss with the physician the steps the Committee believes the physician must take to avoid future difficulties.
Remind, counsel or caution the physician in writing if the Committee believes the physician would benefit from some advice or direction as to how to conduct him or herself in the future.
Take no further action if the conduct or care was appropriate.
What happens if my complaint is referred to the Discipline Committee?
If your complaint is referred to the Discipline Committee for a hearing, a College lawyer will be appointed to prosecute the case. The College's lawyer will likely have additional questions for you.
Hearings at the College are much like proceedings in a court of law. If the ICRC refers your complaint to the Discipline Committee, the College will present evidence before a panel consisting of doctors and members of the public whose role is similar to that of a jury. They will hear the evidence presented by both parties and make a ruling based on that evidence.
You may be asked to testify at the hearing and you are encouraged to bring someone with you for support. If you have to testify, the College’s lawyer will ask you questions and then the doctor's lawyer will ask additional questions.
Discipline hearings are open to the public and the media may attend unless the Committee orders that the public be excluded. The media can publish the name of the doctor, but in cases involving misconduct of a sexual nature the Discipline Committee is required, by law, to order a publication ban on information that could identify you if you request such an order.
If the Discipline Committee finds the allegations are proven, the penalty that is imposed will depend on the circumstances of the case.
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Coming forward about a sexually inappropriate encounter you’ve had with a doctor can be incredibly difficult and there are many reasons why you may choose not to do so. There are, however, good reasons for reporting:
Public protection: Incidents of sexual abuse are often not isolated. By coming forward, you could help us act to ensure that what happened to you does not happen to someone else.
The College won’t know otherwise: The College relies on patients to tell us when things aren’t right. That’s what helps us to protect the public. Most of the time, we learn about sexual abuse from people who make complaints.
Your own sense of closure: If you’ve been the victim of sexual abuse by a doctor, knowing that the College is investigating him/her may play a role in your healing process.
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Is there funding for therapy?
Yes. There are a variety of situations in which you may be eligible for funding for counselling or therapy. Details can be found on the College's website at Information About Funding For Therapy and Counselling or call 416-967-2600 / 1-800-268-7096 ext. 211.
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Contact the College
Again, if you think you experienced sexual abuse at the hands of an Ontario doctor, we urge you to contact us at 1-800-268-7096 ext. 629.
If you have more general questions about the complaints process, we encourage you to call one of our Public Advisors at 1-800-268-7096 ext. 603 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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