6 September 2005
CHRONIC PSYCHIATRIC RAPE EXPOSED IN ENGLAND
Health Service failed to address complaints: patients got justice through the law.
English psychiatrist William Kerr was criminally charged in 2000 with rape and indecent assault. He was found unfit to stand trial due to "illness" but, in a later jury hearing (not a trial), he was found guilty of having indecently assaulted a female patient 14 years earlier. His "sentence" was that he was placed on the sex offender registry.
Michael Haslam, a psychiatrist who practiced in the same hospital as Kerr, was arrested in September 2002 after a police investigation over complaints from several female patients. Haslam was ultimately convicted of rape and indecent assault and sentenced to seven years in prison. On appeal, the rape conviction was dropped and the sentence reduced to three years.
In most cases of psychiatric sex abuse, the story would end there.
However, in July 2005, England's Department of Health issued a 900-page report detailing how the National Health Service (NHS) failed to acknowledge or act on complaints made against William Kerr and Michael Haslam. The report reveals that during their time with the NHS - 1965 to 1988 - they sexually victimized 77 female patients between them. The report also states that, in Kerr's case, the complaints began earlier: Kerr had left his previous post in a Northern Ireland hospital after an internal disciplinary hearing over an allegation of inappropriate sexual conduct. He skulked to England and the NHS, where the first sexual abuse complaint against him was in 1965.
Not a single complaint against either psychiatrist ever resulted in an investigation.
The complaint process was thwarted, in part, by the belief that psychiatrists were above reproach. However, a woman is at greater risk of being raped while on a psychiatrist's couch than while jogging alone at night through a city park. Studies show that between 6% and 13% of psychiatrists and psychologists sexually abuse their patients and, according to one American Journal of Psychiatry study, 80% of psychiatrists reporting sexual contact did so with an average of six patients. With a conservative estimate of 10% of psychiatrists and psychologists sexually assaulting at least four patients each, there could be as many as 78,000 patients in the United States or 260,000 patients worldwide victimized by these professions.
Numerous studies report that psychiatrists, child psychiatrists and psychologists are significantly over-represented in sexual crimes. According to a 2001 study, "Sex Between Therapists and Clients," by Kenneth Pope, a former head of the ethics committee for the American Psychological Association, 1 out of 20 clients who had been sexually abused by their therapist was a minor, the average age being 7 for girls and 12 for boys. The youngest child was 3.
Over 300 psychiatrists, psychologists and mental health professionals worldwide have been convicted of sex crimes in the last 27 years. Hundreds of others have lost their licenses. So Kerr's and Haslam's abuses, while shocking, are not isolated or unusual for the profession. The UK report is a very loud and fortunate exposure of something that has been going on and continues to go on. Most recently:
- Vermont psychiatrist Peter McKenna was sentenced on July 26, 2005 to 60 days in a work camp for sexual abuse of a young female patient.
- UK psychiatrist Julian Morrell was sentenced to four years in prison on April 1, 2005 for sexual activity with a child he met in an Internet "chat room."
- Georgia counselor John C. Evans was sentenced in March 2005 to 20 years in prison for statutory rape and child molestation.
It should be well understood that no action was taken against Kerr and Haslam until patients brought their complaints to the attention of law enforcement.
Currently, 24 states have laws making psychotherapist sex with patients a felony, with penalties of up to ten years in prison in one state.
A key recommendation that came out of the Kerr-Haslam inquiry was for all patient complaints of therapist sexual crimes to be reported to the police. While many states do this out of common sense, only 6 states in the U.S. have laws that require or empower the states' licensing boards to refer therapist sex crimes to local law enforcement for prosecution.
Luckily, laws against rape and sexual assault exist nearly everywhere and apply to all, not just psychotherapists. But therapist rape is rape. Until this is widely recognized, and prosecutors and judges treat every incidence of this as such, psychiatrists, psychologists and psychotherapists will remain a threat to any woman or child undergoing mental health treatment.
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UK Dep't of Health Kerr-Haslam inquiry executive summary & recommendations: