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Sexual abuse of doctors by doctors: professionalism, complexity and the potential for healing

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Sexual abuse in the medical profession is a complex, multifaceted problem that needs evidence-based solutions

Contemporary attitudes to sexual abuse are changing. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, the response of the Australian Defence Force to allegations of sexual abuse in the military and the work of the Australian Human Rights Commission around sexual harassment in the workplace all indicate a shift in community values. They also represent a shift in our understanding of the nature and scope of professionalism. As each respected institution has its professional failures exposed, it becomes obvious that no group is immune. Existing codes of professional conduct have not protected colleagues or clients from toxic behaviour.

Sexual abuse in medicine

The recent discussions in the mainstream and social media have sparked national and international attention, on both the allegations of entrenched sexual harassment, misogyny and exploitation within the surgical profession, and the institutional response to these claims. Essentially, the medical profession has claimed that existing policies protect junior doctors by encouraging victims to report inappropriate behaviour. However, this perspective fails to recognise the profound power imbalance that exists between senior and junior staff. Given the personal and professional cost of whistleblowing,1 it is…