Sexual Exploitation by Helping Professionals...
Sexual Exploitation by Helping Professionals
Sexual exploitation by a helping professional: sexual
contact of any kind between a helping professional (doctor, therapist, teacher,
priest, professor, police officer, lawyer, etc.) and a client/patient.
It is difficult for a client/patient to give informed consent
to sexual contact or boundary violations because the helping professional
holds a great deal of power over that client/patient.
90% of sexual boundary violations occur between a male
provider and a female client/patient (Plaut, S.M., 1997, p. 79).
Such behavior is regarded as unethical and, in every licensed
profession, can be grounds for malpractice and possible loss of license.
are three major types of sexual involvement between a client/patient and a
Sexual activity in the context of a professional treatment,
evaluation, or service
Seual activity with the implication that it has therapeutic
A sexually exploitative relationship
it is not acceptable behavior:
The helping professional starts from a position of great power
over the client/patient and is expected to respect and maintain professional
The professional has a responsibility to protect the interests
of the client/patient and not to serve his/her own needs.
The client/patient has put his/her trust in that professional
and the betrayal of that trust can have devastating consequences.
Within the Therapeutic Relationship:
Clients in therapy are the most susceptible because the client
is already vulnerable and trusts the therapist t0 help her/him feel better.
Therapy relationships are particularly intimate, with clients
sharing their innermost thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
Transference- Way in which a client
transfers negative/positive feelings about others to the therapist.
Transference in and of itself is not a bad thing. In fact, it is necessary in
all therapeutic relationships.
Countertransference- When the
therapist projects his or her own feelings back onto the client.
Problem- When the therapist is
unable to recognize transference and countertransference reactions and,
instead, responds in a sexual manner.
Increased risk of suicide
Feelings of guilt, shame, anger, confusion, worthlessness
Loss of trust
Low Report Rate:
It is estimated that only 4-8% of survivors of sexual
exploitation by helping professionals report the exploitation (Gartrell, N.,
et al.,1987 per TAASA, p. 168, 2004).
Often there is reluctance to report because of
Anticipated or real pain associated with pursuing the case
Fear that she/he won't be believed.
It often takes several years for the client to recognize that
she/he has been harmed.
Ways to Take Action:
Licensing board complaints-
Standards vary by state and profession. Possible punishments include
suspension or revocation of a license or rehabilitation programs. In these
cases the client's confidentiality is protected in any public reports of the
Civil lawsuits- Client hires his or
her own attorney and sues the therapist directly. Usually this is the only way
to receive payment for damages. Procedures are public, and the burden of proof
is on the client.
Criminal proceedings- An option in
some states. In these cases, the state prosecutes (State v. Therapist). The
best possible outcome is a criminal sanction (probation, incarceration).