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What is sexual abuse?

Patient sexual abuse is defined differently for healthcare providers under the RHPA than in criminal law. Under the RHPA, health professionals are accountable to a law that puts the needs of patients first.

By law, sexual abuse of a patient occurs when a nurse:

  • has physical sexual relations with a patient
  • touches a patient in a sexual manner (for example, touching a patient’s genitals when it is not required in caring for the patient)
  • behaves in a sexual manner toward a patient (for example, 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 (for example, commenting on the size of a patient’s breasts or genitals)

Patient sexual abuse is different from the criminal act of sexual assault, which refers to a sexual act without consent. In the context of a nurse-patient relationship, it does not matter if the patient consents; it is always sexual abuse.




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Page last reviewed April 13, 2020