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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.
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.
The College of Nurses of Ontario (CNO) reviews all information it receives to decide which action will best protect the public.
When CNO receives information of possible sexual abuse, it begins a formal investigation. Representatives from CNO contact the patient to introduce themselves and to answer any questions the patient may have about the process.
All those involved in the case, including the patient, may be asked to provide information to CNO. CNO’s Inquiries, Complaints and Reports Committee will then review a detailed report of the investigation along with any supporting documents.
If the committee has sufficient information to prosecute, the nurse will be referred to a hearing before a panel of the Discipline Committee. Following a hearing at which evidence is presented and the nurse has had an opportunity to respond, the panel will make a formal decision.
The law requires that a nurse who is found to have committed sexual abuse be reprimanded. The nurse may have to pay a fine, undertake specific educational training, work under supervision or be suspended from practice.
If the sexual abuse involved sexual intercourse or other physical sexual acts, the nurse must attend for a reprimand 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 the nurse is 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) investigators have been trained to support those who have been sexually abused. They treat patients with sensitivity and help them understand CNO’s 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.
If a discipline panel finds that a patient has been sexually abused by a nurse, the patient can apply for funding from CNO to help pay for therapy. The funding is paid directly to the therapist. It is meant for therapy required as a result of the sexual abuse.
After a finding of sexual abuse, CNO contacts all known patients who have been abused to inform them of their eligibility for financial assistance. If needed, it will also assist them in making an 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 Ontario 1 800 387-5526, ext. 6989) to speak with one of our investigators.
You can also send a message directly to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you want to make an application for therapy funding, contact Monitoring Coordinator, Erin Simpson, to request an application package and to ask any questions about funding eligibility. She can be reached at 416 928-0900, ext. 3831 (toll-free in Ontario 1 800 387-5526, ext. 3831).