Psychiatry: Rape On The Couch

September 06, 2005 (PRLEAP.COM) Education News
A British Department of Health Committee of Inquiry that last month established a 20-year failure of health and psychiatric authorities to bring to account two psychiatrists responsible for the sexual assault of 77 patients has sparked calls for “mental health therapist sexual exploitation” laws in the European Union, Canada and the United States.

The international president of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, Jan Eastgate, said, "studies reveal that more than 36,000 of those patients who have been sexually abused by a therapist have made at least one attempt at suicide. One in every hundred patients, or 2,600, has succeeded. The youngest reported victims of psychiatric rape are 3-to 7-year-olds".

Only about 28 laws exist currently to curb therapist sexual abuse of clients, of which 24 are in the United States. The state of Victoria in Australia, Germany, Sweden and Israel make it a criminal offense for any therapist to have sexual contact with a patient. One of the strongest laws makes any sexual contact with a patient a felony punishable by imprisonment for up to 10 years. CCHR supports many of the UK Department of Health’s recommendations, including regulations that would ensure that all patient complaints of therapist sexual crimes be reported to the police and that any contract employing psychiatrists or psychologists includes an agreement that they will not engage in any sexual practice with a patient.

The Department of Health’s report described the sexual abuse and rape committed by National Health Services (NHS) employed psychiatrists William Kerr and Michael Haslam as an “institutional moral failing.” The €4.7 million [U.S.$5.7 million] inquiry established the blatant neglect and failure of NHS staff, including psychiatrists, to act on dozens of patient complaints dating back to 1965. Haslam was eventually prosecuted and convicted in 2003, but only jailed for 3 years. Kerr, described as an “arrogant, bullying figure,” was found guilty of indecently assaulting a patient but was found incapable of being tried on other charges due to “illness.”

The complaint process was thwarted, in part, by the belief that consultant psychiatrists were above reproach. However, numerous studies report that psychiatrists, child psychiatrists and psychologists are significantly over-represented in sexual crimes. According to a 2001 study, “Sex Between Therapists and Clients,” by Kenneth Pope, a former head of the ethics committee for the American Psychological Association, 1 out of 20 clients who had been sexually abused by their therapist was a minor, the average age being 7 for girls and 12 for boys. The youngest child was 3.

• A 1998 review of U.S. medical board actions against 761 physicians disciplined for sex-related offenses found that while psychiatrists and child psychiatrists account for only 6% of physicians in the country, they comprised 28% of perpetrators disciplined for sex-related offenses.

• A 1998 report from Sweden’s Social [medical] Board on patient complaints over a four-year period found that psychiatrists were responsible for nearly half of the mistreatments of patients reported to the Board, including sexual abuse.

• In one British study of therapist-patient sexual contact among psychologists, 25% reported having treated a patient who had been sexually involved with another therapist.

• A study by the University of Cologne, Germany, in the 1990s found psychiatrists had sexually abused 600 patients each year.

• A woman is at greater risk of being raped while on a psychiatrist's couch than while jogging alone at night through a city park. Studies show that between 6% and 13% of psychiatrists and psychologists sexually abuse their patients and, according to one American Journal of Psychiatry study, 80% of psychiatrists reporting sexual contact did so with an average of 6 patients. With a conservative estimate of 10% of psychiatrists and psychologists sexually assaulting at least 4 patients each, there could be as many as 78,000 patients in the United States U.S. or 260,000 patients worldwide victimized by these professions.

Brian Beaumont, spokesperson for the Vancouver chapter of CCHR states, "There is nothing worse than the victim who has gone to the perpetrator for help, has been promised help, and then has been betrayed. Such despicable treachery in the wake of an already serious personal crisis burdens the victim with further emotional scars and instability. Therapist rape is rape. Until this is widely recognized, and prosecutors and judges treat every incidence of this as such, psychiatrists, psychologists and psychotherapists will remain a threat to any woman or child undergoing mental health treatment.”

CCHR’s own report, Psychiatric Rape: Assault of Women and Children. calls for any patient who has been abused by a psychiatrist or psychologist to file a complaint to a law enforcement agency and to seek CCHR’s assistance if needed. The report points out that psychiatrists are notorious for covering up or ignoring complaints of rape by their colleagues, which is why the incident needs to be reported to the police. In 1994, the Council of Europe’s report, “Psychiatry and Human Rights” urged that codes of conduct be issued to “stipulate explicitly that sexual behavior of the therapist/psychiatrist is forbidden." However, psychiatrists obstructed these recommendations from being implemented. Two years later, the World Psychiatric Association issued a statement that "Ethical behavior is based on the psychiatrist's individual sense of responsibility towards the patient and their judgment in determining what is correct and appropriate conduct.” It balked at the idea of “professional codes of conduct, the study of ethics, or the rule or law” stating that these “will not guarantee the ethical practice of [psychiatry].”

However, one dissenter, U.S. professor of psychiatry Glen Gabbard admits, “The positive aspect of criminalization is that juries and the legal system may be more efficient at administering justice than some licensing boards or ethics committees.”

CCHR wants all convicted psychiatric rapists to be included in the rolls of registered sexual predators and child molesters, making their names public so that no further victims are prevented.

CCHR was established by the Church of Scientology in 1969 and worked to achieve the 28 statutes that now make therapist sexual assault a criminal, rather than medical disciplinary offense. CCHR’s advisory board comprises doctors, psychiatrists, lawyers, civil rights workers and artists.

If you have been harmed by a psychiatrist, call the Citizens Commission on Human Rights at 1-800-670-2247