How to hold an abusive system accountable

How to Hold the Medical/Psychology System Accountable for Abuse

Medical malpractice laws are set up to protect doctors and hospitals from all but the most egregious harm and severe losses. The statute of limitations is usually only 2 years, but it takes at least that long for a survivor to even begin to function again. According to a malpractice lawyer I know, malpractice attorneys want $300-$400,000 settlements, which means mostly catastrophic losses. It doesn’t matter how badly you were wronged, only how much your case is worth, and the system makes sure your case isn’t worth a lawyer’s time. For instance, in my case of non-consensual removal of healthy tissue from my genitals, two dozen firms basically said, “You have a valid claim because consent is important, but the settlement won’t cover our fees so we can’t represent you.”

A genuine healthcare system protects patients against provider abuses, but ours is historically lax. As consumers, we must arm ourselves with knowledge and protections, or we’ll learn too late how badly the system treats survivors.

Before Your Visit: Tips for Patients Seeking Medical Care” offers a little info on selecting providers and what to do when they are abusive or otherwise unprofessional.

Preventing Sexual Abuse in Healthcare
“Sexual abuse can happen to anyone, and it is never a patient’s fault. This guide contains tips to help you protect yourself and others from sexual abuse by a healthcare provider, recognize abusive behaviors, and understand your options in responding to sexual abuse.”

If You’ve Been Medically Harmed” brochure from For the Patients offers info and resources.”

Identifying Medical Trauma,” from ChoosingTherapy
“Medical trauma is a form of psychological trauma resulting from medical diagnosis or intervention. The resulting symptoms can include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, and disrupted sleep.” Unfortunately, few healthcare providers are equipped with the training, knowledge, and experience to help survivors heal. The medical system largely overlooks Medical PTSD. Fortunately, peer support, such as through the Medical PTSD Support Group on Facebook, can be an excellent resource.

Sexual Abuse by Professionals” from RAINN
“When you go to the doctor, dentist, hospital or physical therapist, or see other medical professionals, you trust them to treat you with respect as they care for your health. Sexual abuse by a medical professional is a serious violation of trust, medical ethics, and the law.”
But patients are often uninformed about what constitutes sexual abuse and how to report it, lack the psychosocial support needed to report and go through the legal process, and, according to a series of investigative reports by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution –which show physician sexual assaults are a nationwide systemic problem–hospital administrators and licensing boards often do nothing. Even so, reporting and speaking one’s truth can be healing, and solidifying, and can even cause positive change.

Malpractice is only one way to seek accountability. 

File a detailed complaint with the state medical licensing board. Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) Standards of Proof Required in Board Disciplinary Matters. The FSMB on Physician Discipline. FSMB “Information For Consumers” page. FSMB “Standards of Proof Overview” compares all state standards.

If any of the trauma took place in a hospital, file formal complaints with the hospital and demand they follow ALL procedures. Complaining to the hospital might cause something to change, but most likely you won’t know about it. To admit there was a problem is to open the possibility of liability. One of my campaigns was for trauma-informed care practices. I only heard about the effect because some of my doctors were on board with my agenda. One told me the mega-hospital, a “teaching” hospital, had its first-ever psych rounds. The topic: Trauma-Informed Care! But I’ve no idea what’s been implemented. I’m out of that system for good.

If any of the physicians, clinics, or hospitals have accreditations through other bodies (Joint Commission, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, etc) file complaints with those bodies. Clinics and hospitals spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on these accreditations, so complaints can foul up that process and make it much more expensive and difficult to retain. Even if the physicians work for small clinics and don’t have accreditations themselves, they have affiliations that can damage the process. 

File a grievance with your insurance provider. 

Report a safety concern with the Joint Commission.

File an insurance fraud complaint with the FBI if the incident involves fraudulent charges, such as for medically unnecessary surgery or non-consensual treatment for non-complaints.

Recount your experience with all other medical staff you encounter in your area, especially receptionists and medical assistants. They will talk to their peers and word will get out among medical staff. NOTE: It’s best to relate this verbally only–especially within the abusive institution–as hospital policy will likely require staff to turn over to the legal department any handouts, marked-up business cards, etc.

If sexual misconduct is involved, read the Federation of State Medical Boards report on Physician Sexual Misconduct and its Position Paper on Duty to Report.

Write online reviews of your providers at Yelp, Vitals, Google My Business, Healthgrades, ZocDoc, RateMDs,,, CareDash, RealPatientRatings. Note: “While 60% of health consumers think online reviews are important when choosing a physician, according to a study by the Journal of American Medicine, the quantity of online reviews is not sufficient enough to accurately represent a physician’s quality of care…even if the number of reviews was sufficient, you still have no way of knowing if they are legitimate and written by real patients.” – Medifind

There is a lot you can do.


If you file a complaint with the professional licensing board, the offending provider and facility will likely receive a copy immediately. Your abuser will know everything in your complaint.

Make your complaints for the satisfaction of telling your truth, but keep expectations low. Chances are slim you’ll find a reasonable resolution.

The cleaning staff is likely to be required to report any found items pertaining to potential legal matters. Items posted in hallways and bathrooms will be quickly removed and turned over.

Hospital facilities may have their own para-police, privately paid but with the power to arrest. My encounters with them at the big institution here in Delaware indicate that hospital security personnel are paid to bully, intimidate, and harass aggrieved patients into silence. They didn’t even understand the law they cited and were in violation of themselves. Note that 35% of public hospitals have a police presence and 76% have security with the ability to arrest compared to 18% and 51% respectively at private hospitals. Hospital security, in whichever form, are armed with hand guns in 52% of hospitals.” – International Healthcare Security and Safety Foundation. Weapons Use Among Hospital Security Personnel [Internet]. Duke University Medical Center; 2014.

If your protests annoy the hospital too much, they may suddenly “discharge” you permanently, and you’ll lose access to your providers. (Don’t pick all your providers from one basket.)

Letters to the hospital CEO may have some positive effects.

DISCLAIMER: This is not medical, psychological, or legal advice. The contents of this site represent Shay Seaborne, CPTSD’s lived experience, and understanding of the neurobiology of trauma through study and experiences. For medical, psychological, or legal advice, seek a licensed practitioner.

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