By JEFF HORWITZ and JULIET LINDERMAN
In this image provided by the Conway (Ark.)
Police Department, Robert Rook is seen in this June 3, 2016, photo. An
Associated Press investigation finds that even as Hollywood moguls,
elite journalists and politicians have been pushed out of their jobs or
resigned amid allegations of sexual misconduct, the world of medicine is
more forgiving. Rook was allowed to keep his family practice open, so
long as he’s chaperoned, despite facing multiple criminal charges for
rape. Prosecutors subsequently downgraded the charges to more than 20
counts of sexual assault in the second- and third-degree, charges for
which Rook says he is innocent. (Conway Police Department via AP)
WASHINGTON (AP) — Even as Hollywood moguls, elite journalists and top
politicians have been pushed out of their jobs or resigned amid
allegations of sexual misconduct, the world of medicine is more
forgiving, according to an Associated Press investigation.
when doctors are disciplined, their punishment often consists of a short
suspension paired with therapy that treats sexually abusive behavior as
a symptom of an illness or addiction.
The first time that Dr.
Anthony Bianchi came onto a patient, California's medical board alleged,
the gynecologist placed a chair against the exam room door, put his
fingers into the woman's vagina and exposed his erect penis.
second time, the board claimed, he told a patient that he couldn't stop
staring at her breasts and recounted a dream in which he performed oral
sex on her in the office.
The third time, the board charged, he
told a pregnant patient suffering from vaginal bleeding that she
shouldn't shave her pubic hair before her next visit, as he was getting
These episodes led to disciplinary actions by the
state's medical board in 2012 and in 2016. Bianchi agreed not contest
the charges, and held onto his medical license. Under a settlement with
California's medical board, he agreed to seek therapy and refrain from
treating women during five years of probation.
Bianchi did not
respond to telephone messages from The Associated Press left for him at
the workers' compensation clinic in Fresno, California, where he now
evaluates occupational health claims.
Decades of complaints that
the physician disciplinary system is too lenient on sex-abusing doctors
have produced little change in the practices of state medical boards.
And the #MeToo campaign and the rapid push in recent months to increase
accountability for sexual misconduct in American workplaces do not
appear to have sparked a movement toward changing how medical boards
deal with physicians who act out sexually against patients or staffers.
been a failure of the medical community to take a stand against the
issue," said Azza Abbudagga, a health services researcher with nonprofit
advocacy organization Public Citizen.
She published a report
recently detailing sexual misconduct among physicians. Its findings
showed of the 253 doctors reported to the National Practitioner Data
Bank for having been sanctioned by their respective hospitals or health
care organizations for sexual misconduct, or paid a settlement that
stemmed from such an allegation, 170 of them were not disciplined by
state medical boards, even though all boards have access to the reports
filed with the data bank.
Current guidelines from the Federation
of State Physician Health Programs, which represents doctor rehab
programs in 47 states, are largely silent on handling sexual misconduct
treatment and describe sexual harassment as a "cause of impairment" in a
doctor. Programs to treat doctor impairment are inherently supposed to
be "non-disciplinary," per the federation's guidelines.
programs that attempt to oversee the rehabilitation of doctors who have
committed sexual misconduct aren't always forthcoming about their
methods. In Florida, the Professional's Resource Network asked the AP to
provide detailed questions and a list of sources before it would answer
After the AP provided the head of the program, Alexis
Polles, with basic questions about the program's approach to clearing
doctors for return to work after instances of sexual abuse, she declined
to answer any of them.
The lenience of penalties for sexually
abusive doctors sometimes a source of frustration even for members of
the medical board who administer the discipline, according to Jason
Rosenberg, a former chairman of the Florida medical board.
is incredibly inappropriate," Rosenberg said during one 2013 meeting
when Florida's medical board allowed James Yelton-Rossello, a
psychiatrist alleged to have molested jailed psychiatric patients, to
keep his license. The settlement with the Florida board of medicine did
not require Yelton-Rossello to admit guilt.
"You can't do this and
serve french fries," Rosenberg said at that meeting, citing some fast
food restaurants' policies against hiring sex offenders. "I'm ashamed of
what's going on here."
Yelton-Rossello's lawyer did not respond to telephone messages or an email request for comment.
practice, even some lawyers who represent doctors find the physician
health programs to be problematic. David Spicer, who has represented
doctors facing medical board discipline in Florida, says the state's
doctor rehabilitation program isn't well designed to evaluate or treat
sexual misbehavior. The program's key component, he said, is a
"one-size-fits-all" requirement that doctors engage in therapy sessions
and not get into trouble for a specified period, generally five years.
in the treatment of sexual misbehavior question whether the treatments
mandated for doctors who molest patients are even appropriate for such
"It's insufficient," said Rory Reid, a UCLA psychology
professor who studies addiction and hypersexual behavior. "We have
clinical trials for everything underneath the sun," Reid said. "But
there's not one clinical trial that I'm aware of on the efficacy of
treatment for doctors who have engaged in sexual misconduct."