Testimony submitted by Raana Simmons, CCASA Policy Director to the Senate Judiciary committee on February 13, 2019:
Good afternoon Mr. Chair and members of the committee: my name is Raana Simmons, I am the Director of Policy for the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CCASA), and I am here today representing the Coalition and our over 100 agency and individual members across Colorado who serve survivors of sexual assault, while working to prevent this crime.
Regarding recommendation #2 of the DORA report, we appreciate the intention to increase public safety and support the idea to create parity in process with what is already an established expectation of licensed professional nurses. As noted in the report, sexual violence, including sexual abuse committed by a medical provider, is not about sex but about entitlement and power. Those in power who sexually abuse — individuals like newsroom executives, Hollywood actors, religious leaders, physicians, and others — exploit the illusion of trust that comes with their power, to intimidate and coerce their victims to engage in unwanted sexual activity. Their actions, although sexual in nature, are essentially about exerting power over another person.
Sexual assault by medical professionals remains a fairly unstudied topic, however, scholarly articles consistently show that recidivism rates are high among physicians who commit sexual misconduct. Most studies show anywhere between 33% and 80% of physicians who sexually abuse have more than one victim, with results from a 2017 study that found 57% of physician-related cases of sexual misconduct involved 5 or more victims. While the research indicates that only a small percentage of physicians engage in sexual misconduct with their patients, it is concerning to see the frequency of sexually abusive behaviors within this offender group.
I would add too, based on questions from the committee concerning the “categorization” of substandard practice and sexual misconduct it is possible that this may be due to a mis-categorization. When reports of sexual misconduct are filed, they are sent to the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB). The most commonly used category by NPDB is “not applicable”, which means that some sexual misconduct may be classified as another issue. For example, this is a quote from the Colorado Medical Board on why a doctor engaged in sex with a patient: “[The doctor] was diagnosed with a sleep disorder that may have affected his judgment in beginning a personal relationship.” The board went on to say his conduct “occurred at a time of stress in his life.” The doctor voluntarily surrendered his license in 2004. Six years later, he was granted a restricted license.
In line with recommendation #2 of the report, we have discussed another idea that originated in California in 2018 during the reauthorization of their Medical Provider Act. In particular, it was amended to include a patient notification process to increase transparency and protect patient safety. We believe a patient notification process for physicians who have credible findings of responsibility of sexual misconduct will help lift the veil of secrecy that enables predatory behavior and shields serial sexual abusers from accountability. We have begun preliminary discussions with some of the medical providers about this notification policy and sincerely appreciate their willingness to continue this discussion on the best way to inform and protect patients. I am confident that with provider input we can place CO in the best position possible to protect public safety and prevent physicians like Dr. Larry Nassar from spending decades sexually abusing hundreds of patients, most of whom were young women and girls.
Thank you for your consideration of my testimony, I’m happy to answer any questions that the committee may have.
Dr. Larry Nassar was an osteopathic physician at Michigan State University and doctor to the USA gymnastics national team who was accused of molesting 265 girls and young women under the guise that he was providing legitimate medical treatment, including a number of well-known Olympic gymnasts, dating as far back as 1992. Several women said they reported his abuse to people at USA Gymnastics and Michigan State, but that their claims were ignored or improperly investigated. In 2018 Dr. Nassar was convicted on 10 counts of criminal sexual conduct.
Dr. Stanley Patrick Weber was a pediatrician who, over the course of 2-decades, drew suspensions for credible findings of sexual misconduct for sexually abusing young Native American boys. During his suspensions he was transferred from reservation to reservation and allowed to continue to treat children. In 2017 Dr. Weber was convicted for sexually abusing 6 young boys in Montana and is currently awaiting trial in South Dakota for the sexual assault of 2 other children.