Society condemns sexual misconduct by most citizens and demands punishment. When a physician is the perpetrator, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found, the nation often looks the other way. Today, after months of unearthing rarely viewed documents and tracking some cases from beginning to end, the newspaper documented a phenomenon of physician sexual misconduct that is tolerated to one degree or another in every state. Physician-dominated medical boards gave offenders second chances. Prosecutors dismissed or reduced charges, so doctors could keep practicing and stay off sex offender registries. Communities rallied around them.
The Catholic Church, the military, the Boy Scouts, colleges and universities have all withered under the spotlight of sexual misconduct scandals and promised that abuse will no longer be swept under the rug. The medical profession has never taken on sexual misconduct as a significant priority. The Journal-Constitution started an investigation a year ago after reaching a surprising finding in Georgia: two-thirds of the doctors disciplined in the state for sexual misconduct were permitted to practice again. The newspaper obtained and analyzed more than 100,000 disciplinary documents and other records from across the U.S. to find cases that may have involved sexual misconduct. Reporters identified more than 3,100 doctors who were publicly disciplined since Jan. 1, 1999 after being accused of sexual infractions. More than 2,400 were sanctioned for violations that clearly involved patients. The rest were disciplined for sexual harassment of employees or for crimes such as child pornography, public indecency or sexual assault.