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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.