Sexual Abuse and Sexual 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.
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.”1,2
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.”1,2
Who is a patient?
Each college that regulates a health profession must define who constitutes a “patient” in their Standards of Practice. The College of Registered Psychiatric Nurses of Alberta (CRPNA) defined a patient/client in the Standard of Practice -Maintaining Professional Boundaries and Preventing Sexual Abuse
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 Registered Psychiatric Nurse may have violated a boundary or otherwise engaged in sexual misconduct or abuse?
We recognize that coming forward with a complaint about sexual abuse or misconduct can be very difficult. If you believe your Registered Psychiatric Nurse may have crossed a sexual boundary, we urge you to contact us at 1-780-434-7666 or1-877-234-7666 to learn more about the complaint process.
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 Registered Psychiatric Nurse 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 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 CRPNA won’t know otherwise, we rely on individuals to make us aware when things aren’t right. We can only learn about sexual abuse from people who make
• Your own sense of closure: If you’ve been the victim of sexual abuse by a Registered Psychiatric Nurse, 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 the College alleging a health care professional has sexually abused you while you were a patient is one of the eligibility criteria for receiving funding. Please contact the College of Registered Psychiatric Nurses for additional information 1-780-434-7666 or 1-877-234-7666.
Additional Resources: The Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services offers numerous resources and information about sexual assault services in Alberta.
CRPNA– Complaint Process
We recognize that coming forward with a complaint about sexual abuse can be very difficult. When you call for assistance or to make a complaint, you will speak to the Complaints Director or Assistant to the Complaints Director. This person has specific training in the area of sexual abuse and is very familiar with the College’s complaint process and can give you an idea of what to expect. They will not take statements or conduct investigations. You can speak to this person on the phone by calling 1-780-434-7666 or 1-877-234-7666. 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 signed.
Legislation requires us to notify the health care professional of your complaint, and 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, all the materials gathered by the investigator are given to the Complaints Director of our College who reviews the information to determine if there is sufficient evidence to continue.
The Complaints Director may decide to refer the concerns about the Registered Psychiatric Nurse to the Hearing Tribunal or may determine there is not sufficient evidence to support the allegation.
What happens if my complaint is referred to the Hearing Tribunal?
Your complaint maybe referred to the Hearing Tribunal for a hearing. Hearings at the College are much like proceedings in a court of law. If the Complaints Director refers your complaint to the Hearing Tribunal, the College will present evidence before a panel consisting of registered psychiatric nurses and members of the public whose role is like that of a jury. They will hear the evidence presented by both parties and make a ruling based on that 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 the registered psychiatric nurse if they have legal counsel.
If the Hearing Tribunal finds the allegations of sexual abuse are proven, the Registered Psychiatric Nurses (RPN) 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 RPN will be suspended, and timelines imposed will depend on the circumstances of the case.
The decisions of the Hearing Tribunal are subject to an appeal process whereby the Investigated person 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 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.
Who to Contact
If you think you have experienced sexual abuse by a Registered Psychiatric Nurse, we urge you to contact The College of Registered Psychiatric Nurses of Alberta at 1-780-234-7666 or 1-877-234-7666.