Sexual abuse and sexual misconduct complaints
A registered nurse (RN) or nurse practitioner (NP) 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.
RNs and NPs 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 as defined by law in the Health Professions Act.
What is sexual abuse and sexual misconduct?
Sexual abuse is defined in the Health Professions Act as "the threatened, attempted or actual conduct of a regulated member towards a patient that is of a sexual nature".
The touching by an RN or NP of sensitive parts of a patient’s body for a valid medical purpose with the informed consent of the patient does not constitute sexual abuse.
Sexual misconduct is defined in the Health Professions Act as “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?
Do you think an RN or NP may have violated a boundary?
We recognize that coming forward with a complaint about sexual abuse or sexual misconduct can be very difficult. We take all complaints, including those of sexual abuse or sexual misconduct, with the utmost seriousness. Call CARNA for assistance or to make a complaint, our professional conduct department has training in the area of sexual abuse and is very familiar with CARNA’s complaint process.
For more information call 780.451.0043 / 1.800.252.9392 and ask to speak to someone in the complaints department. Learn more about the complaint process.
Complaints of a sexual nature may involve:
- Inappropriate comments or gestures: This could include saying something sexually suggestive or seductive to a patient, 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: Conducting a breast, genital, or pelvic examination without a valid medical reason would be considered to be sexual abuse if the touching is of a sexual nature.
- Sexual contact or assault: This encompasses everything from inappropriate touching to sexual assault. It also includes any sexual contact between an RN/NP and patient that would otherwise be considered consensual.
- Sexual relationships: Even if an RN/NP and a patient (as defined in CARNA’s Standards of Practice) agree to have a sexual relationship, this constitutes sexual abuse since legally there can be no consent to a sexual relationship between an RN/NP and a patient.
Coming forward about a sexually inappropriate encounter can be incredibly difficult, however there are good reasons for reporting:
- Public protection: Incidents of sexual abuse are often not isolated. Coming forward could mean preventing an incident from occurring again.
- Awareness: The regulatory body 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 complaints.
- A sense of closure: Knowing that there is an investigation and potential consequences may play a role in the healing process.
Funding for therapy and counselling
CARNA has established a patient relations program to support patients who come forward with complaints of sexual abuse or sexual misconduct with funding for therapy or counselling.
Accessing therapy and counselling funding
Filing a complaint with CARNA related to sexual abuse and sexual misconduct is entitles the patient to receive funding.
To learn more about funding for counselling or therapy, please contact CARNA’s conduct department at 780.451.0043 / 1.800.252.9392.
Patients may also wish to contact Health Link Alberta for current resources to support them.
New requirement for all registrants
The Government of Alberta passed Bill 21: An Act to Protect Patients, which came into force April 1, 2019. The Act directs that all health profession regulators establish a patient relations program which includes training for registrants on protecting patients from sexual abuse and sexual misconduct.
All registrants and applicants must complete the online education course Protecting Patients from Sexual Abuse and Misconduct as a requirement for receiving a practice permit. Current registrants must complete the course by September 2021 to renew their 2021-2022 practice permit.
The mandatory Protecting Patients from Sexual Abuse and Misconduct course covers expectations for the nursing profession and its relationships with patients. The knowledge and application of these expectations by registrants will help to protect patients from sexual abuse and misconduct. The course is free and takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes to complete.Log in and start the course