White Coat Betrayal: Ending Sexual Assault in Medicine

I’ve heard story upon story about sexual misconduct from my patients, including inappropriate touching and sexual misconduct during their gynecologic exams when they were young women. The doctor-patient relationship and unspoken trust is the primary principal to our health and wellness, and experiences like these have a long-term negative effect on a woman and the way she takes care of her physical health during her lifetime. Many of these victims have post-traumatic stress disorders that immobilize them indefinitely.

Imagine nervously sitting on an exam room table, completely naked except for a light paper gown. You’re waiting for your gynecologist to walk into the room to perform your first well woman exam. You may be thinking about how you selected this doctor from the list your insurance provider presented so you could take responsibility for your reproductive health and get a prescription for birth control. You may know nothing about the man about to enter the examining room other than the fact that he wears a “white coat,” which inspires your trust, just like Superman’s cape, Batman’s mask or a police officer’s uniform.

Then there’s a knock at the door, and he enters the room. At first, everything is routine as he takes a brief medical history and asks some basic questions about your sex life. His concern about your boyfriend practicing safe sex and wearing a condom further encourages you to relax until the hand he has casually placed on your shoulder moves to your breasts. You’ve never had a breast exam before, and somehow it seems wrong the way he fondles and caresses you, his eyes filled with pleasure. You’re shocked and don’t know what to do when he leans in closer to do your first pelvic exam, and you feel his erect penis rubbing against your thigh. Internally you’re screaming for help, because although you’re new to this, every instinct is telling you that something isn’t right. A short time later, the “good” doctor hands you a new birth control prescription and says, “I will see you back in one year for your annual well woman exam.”

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Posted in: Let's Talk Women's Health

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