On May 25, 2023, Oregon lawmakers unanimously passed Senate Bill 974 (SB 974) which makes it a crime for health professionals to “covertly commit sexual crimes against their patients under the guise of providing legitimate medical care.” By enacting this bill, Oregon will join other states such as California, Idaho, Delaware, and New Hampshire in safeguarding the rights of sexual assault victims and holding perpetrators of sexual abuse accountable under the law.
SB 974 was drafted in response to the case of David Farley, a former doctor. In 2020, over one-hundred women filed a civil suit against Dr. David Farley for sexual misconduct. Additionally, complaints to the Oregon Medical Board were filed alleging sexual misconduct, and the Oregon Medical Board began investigating Dr. Farley. Through their investigation, the Oregon Medical Board found that Dr. Farley had conducted medically unnecessary gynecological exams on minors. Additionally, Dr. Farley admitted to taking pictures of the breasts and genitals of underage patients on his personal cell phone, purportedly for a study on puberty.
Consequently, the Oregon Medical Board permanently revoked Dr. Farley’s license. It is important to note that this is a “rare step”, as not all physicians who are disciplined for sexual misconduct have their licenses revoked In fact, a study conducted in 1998, revealed that nearly 40% of all doctors disciplined by medical boards for sex-related offenses were still practicing medicine. Unfortunately, a subsequent investigation in 2016 indicated that more than one-half of physicians disciplined for sexually abusing patients or sex-related offenses were still licensed to practice.
In 2022, despite over a hundred individuals coming forward with allegations against Dr. Farley, a grand jury decided not to indict Dr. Farley on any criminal charges. The gap in the existing sexual abuse laws and the loophole outlined in ORS 163.412(1) made it too difficult to prosecute Dr. Farley for his actions. Under the previous law, penetration was not a crime if it was part of a medically recognized treatment or diagnostic procedure. Consequently, health professionals could exploit their position of trust and authority to perform unnecessary and invasive medical procedures for their sexual gratification. If faced with criminal prosecution, health professionals could rely on ORS 163.412(1) as a defense.
SB 974 amends this by adding that it must also be for a legitimate medical purpose, which removes the shield that previously protected abusers. In doing so, SB 974 closes a gap in Oregon’s sexual assault statutes, which previously allowed healthcare professionals to evade criminal liability for sexual abuse by invoking the defense outlined in ORS 163.412(1).
As a result, seventy-one survivors demanded that a new criminal investigation into their allegations be conducted. In a letter to Oregon’s Attorney General, the survivors said “Farley gained our trust, misled us, groomed us, and sexually abused us. But, don’t just take our word for it. The Oregon Medical Board revoked Farley’s license for sexually abusing patients. We deserve and demand justice.” The District Attorney involved in the grand jury proceeding contacted Oregon lawmakers to draft a bill that would address and remedy the law’s shortcomings.
Once SB 974 is signed into law, it will establish that:
“a person commits the crime of sexual abuse by fraudulent representation if the person is a licensee and knowingly: (a) Subjects another person to sexual contact; and (b) Falsely or fraudulently represents to the other person that the sexual contact serves a legitimate medical purpose.”
Sexual abuse perpetrated by a health professional through fraudulent representation will be categorized as a Class B Felony, which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. Additionally, SB 974 specifies that the statute of limitations is six years “after the victim becomes aware or reasonably should have been aware of the criminal nature of the conduct.”
As Representative Lisa Reynolds said, “While we can’t predict what would’ve been the outcome on this specific case described if the bill had been law at the time, the case shines a light on the gap in Oregon’s criminal code, and Senate Bill 974 helps close that gap.” The unanimous passing of SB 974 sends a powerful message of support to survivors and will hopefully allow survivors to get the justice they deserve.
Crew Janci LLP has represented victims of sexual abuse by doctors, psychiatrists, and other health professionals.
If you or someone you know has been sexually abused by a doctor, call today for a free confidential consultation at 1-888-407-0224 or use our confidential submission form.
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