Complaints About Sexual Abuse and Sexual Misconduct

Health care professionals, including Dental Assistants, are in a position of trust and of power over a patient, by virtue of having professional knowledge and skills that a patient must rely on for their well-being. In addition, they have access to patients’ personal health information.

Dental Assistants must always maintain professional boundaries with their patients. They are prohibited from engaging in any form of sexual abuse or sexual misconduct with a patient.

What is Sexual Abuse and Sexual Misconduct

Sexual Abuse is defined in the Health Professions Act (HPA), 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:

  1. sexual intercourse between a regulated member and a patient of that regulated member;
  2. 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;
  3. masturbation of a regulated member by, or in the presence of, a patient of that regulated member;
  4. masturbation of a regulated member’s patient by that regulated member;
  5. encouraging a regulated member’s patient to masturbate in the presence of that regulated member;
  6. touching of a sexual nature of a client’s genitals, anus, breasts or buttocks by a regulated member.”

Sexual Misconduct as defined in the HPA, “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. Our College has defined a patient as an individual who is involved in or has had a professional interaction with a Dental Assistant.

An individual will be considered a patient for one-year (365 days) after the last date of professional interaction between the individual and the Dental Assistant.

For the purposes of the sexual abuse and sexual misconduct provisions of the HPA, the following persons listed below will not be considered to be a patient:

  • a Dental Assistant’s spouse;
  • a Dental Assistant’s adult interdependent partner; or,
  • an individual who has a pre-existing on-going sexual relationship with the Dental Assistant prior to the date when the Dental Assistant first had a professional interaction with that individual.

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 Dental Assistant may have violated a boundary or otherwise engaged in sexual misconduct or abuse?

Did your Dental Assistant do something to make you feel uncomfortable? Maybe he or she touched you in a way that was not necessary or appropriate for your oral health or perhaps he or she said something sexually suggestive. If this is the case, please contact our Complaints Director to discuss your concerns.

We recognize that coming forward with a complaint about sexual abuse or misconduct can be very difficult. If you believe your Dental Assistant may have crossed a sexual boundary, we urge you to contact us as soon as possible at 780-486-2526 or 800-355-8940.

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 your clothing, your appearance, 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 touching without your permission or without a reasonable explanation for the touching.
  • 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 require the consent of both persons.

Why report?

Coming forward about a sexually inappropriate encounter you’ve experienced with a Dental Assistant can be incredibly difficult and there are many reasons why you may choose not to do so. There are, however, good reasons for reporting including:

  • Public protection: Incidents of sexual abuse or misconduct are often not isolated. By coming forward, you could help us act to ensure that what happened to you does not happen to someone else.
  • Awareness: The 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 misconduct from people who make complaints.
  • Your own sense of closure: If you’ve been the victim of sexual abuse or misconduct by a Dental Assistant, knowing that there is an investigation and potential consequences may play a role in your healing process.

Therapy & Counselling Funding

There are a variety of situations in which you may be eligible for funding for counselling or therapy. In fact, filing a complaint with us and alleging that a Dental Assistant has committed sexual abuse or sexual misconduct while you were a patient is one of the eligibility criteria for receiving funding. Read more here or call us at 780-486-2526 for details.

Complaint Process

We recognize that coming forward with a complaint about sexual abuse can be very difficult. When you call for information or to make a complaint, you will speak to our Complaints Director. This person has specific training in the area of sexual abuse and sexual misconduct, is very familiar with our complaint process and can give you an idea of what it involves. Our Complaints Director will not take statements or conduct investigations. You can speak to this person on the phone by calling 780-486-2526 ext. 222. You can remain anonymous, use an alias, or arrange to meet in person. If you then decide to make a formal complaint, it must be submitted in writing and be signed.

When we receive your complaint, our Complaints Director will appoint an investigator to conduct an investigation. 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. You will be asked to sign a consent form so that he or she can obtain your dental records.

Legislation requires us to notify the Dental Assistant of your complaint, and the Dental Assistant is given the opportunity to respond to it.

Other people with information about the incident or documents related to the complaint such as the dental clinic, Alberta Health Care or pharmaceutical records may be gathered as part of the investigation.

Your complaint is handled with the utmost seriousness, and all complaints will be fully investigated. When the investigation is complete, all the materials gathered by the investigator are given to our Complaints Director who will review the information and decide what should happen.

Our Complaints Director may decide to refer the concerns about the Dental Assistant to a Hearing Tribunal for a formal hearing or may determine that no further action is needed if the conduct or care was appropriate.

You can find more general information about our complaints process at Complaints and Professional Discipline.

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 our College are much like proceedings in a court of law. If our Complaints Director refers your complaint to a Hearing Tribunal, our Complaints Director will present evidence before a panel consisting of regulated health care professionals and members of the public whose role is like that of a jury. They will hear the evidence presented by both the Complaints Director and the Dental Assistant and make a finding based on that evidence.

You may be asked to testify at the hearing and you are able to bring someone with you for support. If you must testify, you maybe questioned by the legal representatives for the Complaints Director and the Dental Assistant.

If the Hearing Tribunal finds the allegations of sexual abuse are proven, we will cancel the Dental Assistant’s registration, and he or she will not be allowed to practice for life. If the Hearing Tribunal finds allegations of sexual misconduct proven, we will suspend the Dental Assistant. The length of the suspension will depend on the circumstances of the case. In both of these situations, the Hearing Tribunal can issue other penalty orders as well.

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 requesting that the hearing be held in private. The media can publish the name of the Dental Assistant, but in cases involving misconduct of a sexual nature the Hearing Tribunal is required, by law, to order a publication ban on information that could identify you if you request such an order.

The decisions of the Hearing Tribunal are subject to an appeal process whereby the Dental Assistant or our Complaints Director, on behalf of our College, may appeal the Hearing Tribunal’s decision.

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 Complaints Director or complaint coordinator at the appropriate Alberta College or association. See this list of Colleges and links to their websites.

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