Statistics only tell part of the story.
- Approximately 4.4% of therapists report having engaged in sex with at least one client,
- The offenders are about four times more likely to be male than female,
- The vast majority of sexually exploited clients are women (88-92%), and
- One out of 20 victims is a minor.
The aftermath is incalculable. Eleven per cent of victims of therapist patient abuse end up in the hospital, 14% attempt suicide, and 1% actually commit suicide (Pope and Vetter).
However, how do you quantify ambivalence, the inability to control your emotions, isolation, anger, guilt? Some people who are sexually abused by their therapist just stop functioning. They can’t work. They can’t take care of themselves. They experience a number of psychological disorders including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Maybe this is why only four to eight percent of victims ever report the sexual contact. It takes an amazing amount of courage and strength to come forward.
Top Things You Should Know
If you are interested in exploring the legal process, here are some things you need to know.
- Sexual contact of any kind between a psychotherapist and a patient is universally regarded as unethical. It is considered malpractice in every jurisdiction, and in some states, it is a criminal offense.
- Your legal options may include a civil lawsuit, a criminal complaint, and a licensing board complaint.
- In a civil lawsuit, you retain your own lawyer, and you must prove that it is more likely than not that the incident happened (Patient vs. Therapist). The best outcome in a civil lawsuit is an award of money damages from the court.
- Money damages are based on your medical and counseling bills, loss of wages, pain and suffering, and emotional distress. You may also be entitled to receive punitive damages awarded to punish the wrongdoer.
- In order to prove your case, you have to prove by the greater weight of the evidence that a) the abuse occurred, b) the abuse caused you harm and c) the amount of damages you are entitled to receive.
- You may only have so much time to file a lawsuit, according to the statute of limitations. In some states, you have less than one year after the date you discovered the therapist’s wrong doing to take legal action.
- If the therapist has no assets and no insurance, a civil lawsuit will be more difficult since the point of a civil suit is to recover money for damages, such as loss of income, future therapy expenses, and pain and suffering.
- Many malpractice policies have exclusions or low coverage for sexual misconduct, so you may need an attorney to help you with an approach that focuses on professional misconduct in general, such as the therapist’s mishandling of patient transference, failure to treat, failure to make an appropriate referral, or failure to terminate the therapist/patient relationship.
If you decide to file, you may not want to proceed with a licensing board complaint right away. Talk to your attorney. Good legal advice will ensure that you don’t do anything that weakens your case or diffuses your efforts.