We trust our doctors not only to provide us with the best possible medical care, but also with our health and safety. Doctors have a duty to act in a professional, responsible and ethical manner, especially when their job involves seeing us in our most intimate and vulnerable moments.
Therefore, it can be confusing and traumatizing if you have an uncomfortable experience during a medical exam. It can be difficult to acknowledge that you might have been sexually assaulted or that your doctor may have engaged in inappropriate behavior. This can cause you to feel violated and destroy your trust in the entire medical profession.
But how do you know if you experienced a sexual assault or sexual harassment at the exam? Because there is such a high standard set for medical professionals, you may question if you misinterpreted what happened or blew the situation out of proportion.
Many of these situations occur during medical examinations that require a doctor to view and/or touch private areas of your body.
Know your rights
First, you have the right to request a doctor who is the same sex as you. If you are told this is not possible, you can decline to go through with the exam. You cannot be forced to have the exam performed by an opposite sex doctor if you have requested otherwise.
Next, you are allowed to have another person in the room with you upon request. A refusal to follow this request is a violation of your rights.
A doctor must tell you what they are going to do before they do it and explain why they are doing it. If they don’t, you can ask and refuse the exam if you are not given satisfactory answers.
Most exams require you to remove certain pieces of clothing so the doctor can properly exam an area. You should not be asked to undress any parts of your body that are not going to be examined by the doctor.
Your doctor should use gloves when they examine you. They should tell you to let them know if anything hurts or if you feel uncomfortable in any way.
Some exams involve questions about your sexual activity and/or history. These questions should never make you feel uncomfortable or awkward.
You can stop the exam and leave
Know that you have the right to stop an examination and leave if you feel uncomfortable or scared at any point.
A sexually abusive or harassing situation during a medical examination can cause you long-term or permanent emotional and psychological damage. You have the right to take legal action against your doctor you believe you are a victim of sexual assault or harassment.
You can contact local law enforcement, report the situation to the hospital or medical facility that exam was performed at and/or report the doctor’s behavior to the Medical Board of California.
Deciding to act can be scary, and you might not know exactly how to exercise this right. It can help to remember that your actions can encourage other victims to come forward and prevent future incidents.
Talking with a professional about your experience can help you learn what next steps to take and the likely outcome.