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Psychiatrists and Sexual Abuse

Although the Chelmsford atrocities and the disgraceful South African mental health camps are broad and telling examples of psychiatric desperation, there is a less dramatic yet extremely pervasive form of abuse which, mainly through the efforts of CCHR, continues increasingly to make headlines around the world: psychiatric sexual abuse.

A growing problem among psychiatrists and psychologists, the sexual exploitation of patients – men, women and children – had long gone unreported owing to the unique and powerful control mental health professionals hold over their patients. Less than 5 percent of patients sexually assaulted by their therapists ever take action against them. And there are even cases on record wherein psychiatrists have actually used their instruments of trade – electroshock and heavy sedation – to silence patients they have sexually abused.

While there have been widespread reports of these abuses in institutions, CCHR investigations and the appearance of more and more newspaper accounts show the problem is not limited to those who have been committed to psychiatric care. It ranges from one-man practitioners in small towns and cities, to high officials. Early in 1992, for instance, John Hamilton, deputy medical director of the American Psychiatric Association, stepped down from office and had his license suspended for a year – after having sexual relations with a patient who was courageous enough to file a complaint. Ironically, Hamilton wrote and edited the APA peer review manual.

However, this type of rap on the knuckles is all too common – and, more unfortunately, all too rare. In the last ten years, the APA has suspended or expelled only 113 psychiatrists for exploiting patients. These are mild actions when one considers findings of the California task force that about 66 percent of those who are sexually exploited by mental health practitioners experience serious emotional repercussions, and 1 percent even commit suicide.


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