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Myths about patient sexual abuse

Myth:  The one-year rule doesn’t apply if a nurse covers a colleague during break and provides patient care for 15 minutes.

False. Even when a nurse covers a colleague during break and provides patient care for this short time period, this is considered a therapeutic nurse-patient relationship. This relationship is not defined by a length of time or by the nurse’s assignment or role in the plan of care. Nurses may only engage in a personal friendship, romantic relationship or sexual relationship after one year following the end of the therapeutic nurse-patient relationship, while considering a number of factors. For example, patient’s likelihood of requiring ongoing care.

Myth: Some vulnerable patients may benefit from a nurse becoming a “friend”

False. Patients benefit from a therapeutic and professional relationship with their nurse, not a social relationship. When boundaries are violated and a professional relationship becomes a social relationship, patients may be harmed. Social relationships are not focused on patient’s needs, but rather the nurse’s needs. There is an unequal power balance, and becoming a patient’s friend, has the potential to misuse and exploit this power. 

Myth: All abusers are male

False. In analyzing CNO’s sexual abuse cases, 49% of the cases involved male nurses. Our research shows that female nurses are involved in sexual abuse cases.

Myth: Sexual abuse is easy to detect

False. Sexual abuse may not be easy to detect. Some behaviours are obvious such as touching of a sexual nature. However, other behaviours, such as a sexual remark, is less obvious. It is important that people are aware of what sexual abuse in a health care context is and the warning signs leading up to sexual abuse.

Myth: Patient sexual abuse is commonly reported.

False: Research shows that sexual abuse is underreported. In Ontario, there is an estimated 200,000 that have experienced sexual abuse at the hands of health professionals over a six-year period. (Minister's Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Abuse of Patients, 2016).

Myth: With all the awareness of sexual abuse prevention, it is not as much of a problem as it used to be.

False: Sexual abuse is still and continues to be a problem. Our research has shown an increase of reported sexual abuse cases since 2015 but research shows that sexual abuse remains largely unreported. 

Myth: If an employer has a policy about sexual abuse, their obligations are fulfilled

False: As a partner in safety, employers have an obligation to alert CNO about concerns of a member’s practice. Fines may be imposed if a person or a facility fails to make a mandatory report relating to sexual abuse. Individuals may be fined up to $50,000 while corporations may be fined up to $200,000.




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Page last reviewed April 13, 2020