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Sexual Abuse of Patients
When receiving care from a nurse, you can expect that she or he will be professional, respectful, knowledgeable, skillful and ethical.
Sexual relations between a nurse and patient are always unethical and abusive, and are considered a serious breach of trust.
The law recognizes the significant harm that results from the sexual abuse of a patient by a health care professional.
For nurses and their patients, the term “sexual abuse” has a specific legal meaning. It is not the same meaning as the criminal act of sexual assault, which refers to a sexual act without consent.
Sexual abuse of a patient occurs when a nurse:
- has physical sexual relations with a client
- touches a patient in a sexual manner (e.g., touching a patient’s genitals when it is not required in caring for the patient)
- behaves in a sexual manner toward a patient (e.g., touching a patient’s shoulder or hand unnecessarily and in a manner that implies a sexual interest in the patient)
- makes remarks of a sexual nature to a patient (e.g., commenting on the size of a patient’s breasts or genitals)
A nurse is in a position of power over a patient, by virtue of having professional knowledge and skill that a patient must rely on for their well-being. In addition, a nurse has access to patients' personal health information. Because of this, any sexual relationship with a patient is abuse and professional misconduct. It does not matter if the patient agreed to the sexual acts.
For the purpose of professional misconduct involving sexual abuse, an individual is considered to be a patient while receiving care and for a period of one year following the end of a professional relationship with the patient.
If you have been, or are being, sexually abused by a nurse, you can:
- immediately request that the abuse stop;
- report the abuse to the nurse’s manager or to another official at the health care facility and request that the nurse no longer care for you; and/or
- contact the College of Nurses of Ontario (CNO).
If you're a family member or acquaintance who learns of the sexual abuse, you can:
- report the abuse to the nurse’s manager or to another official at the health care facility and request that the nurse no longer care for the abused patient and/or
- contact CNO.
If an employer or a health professional becomes aware that a nurse may have sexually abused a patient, the law requires that they report that abuse to CNO.
The patient’s name is not forwarded to CNO as part of the abuse report unless that patient gives the employer or health professional written permission to identify them as the victim of such abuse.
When CNO receives information of possible sexual abuse, it begins a formal investigation.
Representatives from CNO will contact the patient to introduce themselves, answer any questions the patient may have about the process and provide information about how the patient can access funding for therapy should they choose to.
After a thorough investigation, which includes interviewing witnesses and collecting supporting documents, CNO’s Inquiries, Complaints and Reports Committee (ICRC) will review a detailed report of all the information collected.
If the committee has sufficient information to prosecute, the nurse will be referred to a hearing before a panel of the Discipline Committee. Following the hearing at which evidence is presented and the nurse has had an opportunity to respond, the panel will make a formal decision.
If the Discipline Committee finds the nurse guilty of engaging in sexual abuse, the nurse must attend a reprimand meeting and their certificate of registration will be revoked. This means the nurse will not be able to work as a nurse and care for patients for at least five years.
At the end of that five years, the nurse will need to prove to a panel of the Discipline Committee that they are no longer a risk to the public before being allowed to work again as a nurse.
The College of Nurses of Ontario’s (CNO’s) representatives treat patients with sensitivity and help them understand the process.
If a matter goes to a hearing, CNO will provide the patient with the support they need to participate in the hearing.
CNO will protect the privacy of the patient. While discipline hearings are open to the public, all or part of hearings about sexual abuse may be closed to protect the patient. The discipline panel can also order a publication ban.
Once a complaint or report related to sexual abuse by a nurse is received by CNO, the patient can apply for funding to help pay for therapy. The funding is paid directly to the therapist and is meant for treatment required as a result of the sexual abuse. If needed, CNO staff can assist the patient with the application.
If you have concerns about a nurse abusing a patient, you can call the College of Nurses of Ontario at 416 928-0900, ext. 6989 (toll-free in Canada 1 800 387-5526, ext. 6989) to speak with one of our representatives .