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Female Health Practitioners Disciplined for Sexual Misconduct

Author

Jenni Millbank

Within a broader study of Australian tribunal determinations concerning sexual misconduct by the five major health professions (2010–17) it became apparent that a sizable minority of disciplinary cases were brought against female practitioners for engaging in sexual relationships with patients. This article examines cases involving female doctors, psychologists, and nurses to explore their distinctly gendered aspects. There were differences apparent between cases involving female and male practitioners, in terms of vulnerability of patients and degree of exploitation, which go some way to explaining an overall trend of less severe outcomes for female respondents in cases at the tribunal level. However, there were also issues that were entirely distinct in the female cases, being the occurrence of: incarcerated patients; patient suicide; and same-sex relationships. I suggest that the first two of these issues would generally be regarded as severely aggravating (but were not always assessed as such), while the complexity of the third in terms of the broader social context may not have been well understood. The distinctive features of female cases suggest that there may need to be a rethinking in order to target ethical guidance and training on sexual misconduct in a gender-specific way.

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