A visit to the doctor turned into a nightmare for a 9-year-old from Kozhikode recently. The girl was molested, allegedly by her paediatrician, while she went in for a routine medical inspection. The doctor allegedly abused the girl after taking her behind a curtain on the pretext of a check-up. When the child showed signs of discomfort after visiting the doctor and later on, her mother took her to another doctor. The second doctor identified that the child had been molested. She had suffered injuries to her vagina and other body parts. The police were called in immediately.

Matters came to a head when the parents withdrew the police complaint, allegedly under pressure from the accused. Anweshi, an organisation working against gender-based violence, is set to file a case in the High Court of Kerala seeking action against the doctor.

A similar allegation had been made against a doctor by a 17-year-old girl in Palakkad earlier this year, another in Alappuzha.

Despite the complaints that have made it to the police records and newspapers, many instances of doctors and hospital staff sexually abusing patients are never reported. Sexual abuse in hospitals is often confusing for the victim, especially a minor, as touch is a crucial part of diagnosis.

A city resident recalled an instance when a physician allegedly tried to molest her when she was a 15-year-old. “The doctor moved his hands towards my private parts when I went to get examined for a medical certificate. I flinched and he immediately withdrew,” she said.

Doctors are quick to defend their ilk on the matter. “An actual case of abuse by a doctor in a hospital is very rare. We are trained not to see our patients sexually. It is a part of our oath. Given the nature of our job, it is also very easy to misunderstand things and accuse a doctor of sexual abuse,” said a city doctor. However, abuse cases do exist, he admitted.

Several cases of other hospital staff taking advantage of patients have also come to light.

A 40-year-old woman recounts abuse she suffered in a city hospital while she went to have a cyst in her ovary removed a few years ago. “I was about to be operated upon and I had been given anaesthesia. Just before I lost consciousness, a male orderly groped me under the hospital gown. I was unable to move as I had been drugged. But I managed to scream. A female nurse saw what he was doing and yelled at him. I soon lost consciousness,” she said.

She left the hospital a few days after the procedure. A crime was never registered. “I still clearly remember the face of the man who molested me while I lay there helpless,” she said.

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