Sexual Abuse and Misconduct Complaints
A health care professional is in a position of power over a patient, by virtue of having professional knowledge and skill that a patient must rely on for their well-being. In addition, they have access to patients’ personal health information.
Health care professionals must always maintain professional boundaries with their patients. They are prohibited from engaging in any form of sexual abuse or sexual misconduct as defined by law in the Health Professions Act with a patient.
During COVID-19 pandemic, the CLPNA is taking all appropriate measures to ensure its mandate of protecting the public against unskilled nursing practice and unprofessional conduct continues to be a top priority. Complaints continue to be handled within the timelines specified by the Health Professions Act (HPA) and procedures outlined by CLPNA. For the health and safety of LPNs and the public, the CLPNA is following Alberta Health’s COVID-19 guidelines. Therefore, investigations are now managed remotely (ie. phone or videoconference).
What is Sexual Abuse and Sexual Misconduct
Sexual Abuse is defined in the Health Professions Act, and “means the threatened, attempted or actual conduct of a regulated member towards a patient that is of a sexual nature and includes any of the following conduct:
a) Sexual intercourse between a regulated member and a patient of that regulated member;
b) Genital to genital, genital to anal, oral to genital, or oral to anal contact between a regulated member and a patient of that regulated member;
c) Masturbation of a regulated member by, or in the presence of, a patient of that regulated member;
d) Masturbation of a regulated member’s patient by that regulated member;
e) Encouraging a regulated member’s patient to masturbate in the presence of that regulated member;
f) Touching of a sexual nature of a client’s genitals, anus, breasts or buttocks by a regulated member.”
Sexual Misconduct as defined in the Health Professions Act, “means any incident or repeated incidents of objectionable or unwelcome conduct, behaviour or remarks of a sexual nature by a regulated member towards a patient that the regulated member knows or ought reasonably to know will or would cause offence or humiliation to the patient or adversely affect the patient’s health and well-being but does not include sexual abuse.”
Who is a patient?
Each college that regulates a health profession must define who constitutes a “patient” in their Standards of Practice. For the purposes of the sexual abuse and sexual misconduct provisions in the HPA, the College of Licensed Practical Nurses of Alberta (CLPNA) considers an individual to be a Licensed Practical Nurse’s patient while receiving a professional nursing service provided by the LPN, and for a minimum of one year from the last day professional nursing services were provided.
Note: If the health care provider is not a member of a regulated profession, they are not subject to the authority of any regulatory college. Should you have a complaint or concern about their conduct or the care they provided, please contact the employer of the unregulated provider and/or the police.
Do you think a health care professional may have violated a boundary or otherwise engaged in sexual misconduct or abuse?
Did an Licensed Practical Nurse do something to make you feel uncomfortable? Maybe he or she touched you in a way that was not medically necessary or appropriate or perhaps he or she said something sexually suggestive. We recognize coming forward with a complaint about sexual abuse or sexual misconduct can be very difficult.
If you believe your health care professional may have crossed a sexual boundary, we urge you to contact the CLPNA to discuss your concerns at 1-800-661-5877 (toll free in Alberta), 780-484-8886, Email the CLPNA’s Complaints Department, or Make a Complaint.
Complaints of a sexual nature may involve:
- Privacy and respect: This could include a health care professional not providing enough privacy while putting on a gown or getting dressed after an examination.
- Inappropriate comments or gestures: This could include saying something sexually suggestive or seductive to you, commenting unnecessarily about sexual relationships or sexual orientation, making sexually insulting or offensive comments or jokes, or giving unwanted attention (like kissing).
- Unnecessary or improper physical examinations: This could mean more frequent breast, genital or pelvic examinations than would be considered medically necessary, touching without your permission or explanation, or conducting a physical examination in a sexual rather than a medical way.
- Sexual contact or assault: This encompasses everything from inappropriate touching to sexual assault. It also includes any sexual contact between a health care professional and patient that would otherwise be considered consensual.
Coming forward about a sexually inappropriate encounter you’ve experienced with a health care professional can be incredibly difficult and there are many reasons why you may choose not to do so. There are; however, good reasons for reporting:
- Public protection: Incidents of sexual abuse or sexual misconduct are often not isolated. By coming forward, you could help us act to ensure what happened to you does not happen to someone else.
- Awareness: The regulatory college won’t know otherwise. We rely on individuals to make us aware when things aren’t right. We can only learn about sexual abuse or sexual misconduct from people who make complaints.
- Your own sense of closure: If you’ve been the victim of sexual abuse or sexual misconduct by a health care professional, knowing there is an investigation and potential consequences may play a role in your healing process.
Counselling and Therapy
Counselling or therapy is available for patients filing a complaint with the CLPNA alleging sexual abuse/sexual misconduct by a Licensed Practical Nurse. Once your complaint is reviewed, a referral for counselling or therapy is made on your behalf by the Complaints Director or Complaints Consultant. There is no requirement of a finding of unprofessional conduct before a patient is eligible to be referred.
For more information, please contact the College of Licensed Practical Nurses of Alberta at 1-800-661-5877 (toll free in Alberta), 780-484-8886, or Email the CLPNA’s Complaints Department
The Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services offers numerous resources and information about sexual assault services in Alberta.
We recognize coming forward with a complaint about sexual abuse or sexual misconduct can be very difficult. When you call for assistance or to make a complaint to the CLPNA, you will speak to the Complaints Director/Complaints Consultant. The Complaints Director/Complaint Consultant has specific training in the area of dealing with sexual abuse or sexual misconduct complaints; and is very familiar with the College’s complaint process. The Complaints Director/Complaints Consultant will not take statements or conduct investigation at this point of the process. If you decide to submit a formal complaint, the complaint must be submitted in writing, dated and signed.
When your complaint is received, the Complaints Director/Complaints Consultant appoints an investigator to conduct the investigation into the matter. The investigator will contact you to discuss your concerns and obtain additional information. If you prefer, you can meet in person. The investigator will ask you to explain what happened as clearly and in as much detail as you can possibly provide. All investigators have Trauma Informed Sexual Assault Training.
Legislation requires us to notify the health care professional of your complaint; we will provide the health care professional with a copy of the complaint. The health care professional is given the opportunity to respond to it.
Your complaint is handled with the utmost seriousness, and all complaints will be fully investigated. When the investigation is complete, a written report will be provided to the Complaints Director/Complaints Consultant for review to determine if there is sufficient evidence the conduct constitutes ‘unprofessional conduct’.
The Complaints Director/Complaints Consultant may decide to refer the matter to a Hearing Tribunal or may determine there is insufficient evidence to support the conduct and dismiss the complaint.
What happens if my complaint is referred to a Hearing Tribunal?
Your complaint may be referred to a Hearing Tribunal for a hearing. Hearings at the College are much like proceedings in a court of law. If the Complaints Director/Complaints Consultant refers your complaint to a Hearing Tribunal, the College will present evidence before a Hearing Tribunal panel. The panel consists of regulated health care professionals and member/s of the public whose role is like that of a jury. The Hearing Tribunal will hear the evidence presented by both parties and make a ruling based on the evidence.
You may be asked to testify at the hearing and you are encouraged to bring someone with you for support. If you must testify, you may be questioned by the legal representatives for the College and by the health care professional or by the health care professional’s representative.
If the Hearing Tribunal finds the allegations of sexual abuse are proven, the health professional’s registration will be cancelled, and they will not be allowed to practice for life. If the Hearing Tribunal finds allegations of sexual misconduct proven, the health professional will be suspended, and timelines for the suspension imposed will depend on the circumstances of the case.
The decisions of the Hearing Tribunal are subject to an appeal process whereby the health care professional or the Complaints Director, on behalf of the College may appeal the Hearing Tribunal’s decision.
Hearings are open to the public and the media may attend unless the Hearing Tribunal orders the hearing be held in private or an application is submitted for the hearing to be held in private. The media can publish the name of the health care professional, but in cases involving sexual abuse/sexual misconduct the Hearing Tribunal is required, by law, to order a publication ban on information that could identify you if you request such an order.
Who to Contact
If you think you have experienced sexual abuse at the hands of an Alberta regulated health care professional, we urge you to contact the appropriate Alberta College or association.
If the health professional was an LPN, contact the College of Licensed Practical Nurses of Alberta at 1-800-661-5877 (toll free in Alberta), 780-484-8886, or Email the CLPNA’s Complaints Department, or Make a Complaint.