Preventing Sexual Abuse

Most of the attention on the Sexual Abuse Task Force (SATF) report in Ontario has been focused on the proposed changes to the complaints, investigation and discipline system. However, chapter 4 of the report provides excellent resources on preventing sexual abuse in the first place.

The SATF suggests that there are three key ways of preventing sexual abuse of patients:

  1. Severe consequences to practitioners who abuse patients.
  2. Specifying clear boundaries to both practitioners and the public.
  3. Adequate education, especially for students, but also ongoing once registered.

The education of practitioners (and others) should cover nine components:

  1. The concept of zero tolerance (e.g., no excuses).
  2. Boundaries such as the time, location and duration of treatment, language used, reasons and method of touching, self-disclosure and socializing and dual relationships.
  3. Why sexual abuse occurs, including the vulnerability of patients and motivations of practitioners who abuse them (e.g., falling in love).
  4. The various forms, extent and timing of the harm from sexual abuse.
  5. That consent is not valid for sexual abuse and an understanding as to why apparent consent may occur.
  6. Post-termination involvements with patients and why they are always troublesome and when they are never appropriate.
  7. Mandatory reporting rules and how to manage ambivalence about doing it and why it is so important.
  8. Knowledge of the legislation, rules and standards that exist for every profession.
  9. How to critically evaluate potential boundary violations so that the practitioner has the tools to manage unexpected or challenging situations.

This chapter provides useful information for all regulators, not just those associated with health professions.

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