Protest chill is last thing sex-assault complainants need

Elaine Craig asks us to imagine the impact of protests critical of women reporting sexual misconduct by their physician


Coming forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against one’s doctor is one of the most daunting things someone can do. The barriers to reporting can be overwhelming. Will anyone take my complaint against a member of this elite and powerful profession seriously?  Will I lose my health-care provider? Will my community lose its doctor? Will I then lose my community because people find out I complained? 

Unfortunately, coming forward in Cape Breton just got a lot harder. 

Eighty people attended a rally organized by health-care providers in front of the hospital in Sydney last Thursday in support of a doctor accused of sexual misconduct by two female patients. Some of the allegations these two women have reported involve serious violations of their physical and sexual integrity. The protesters chanted and held placards calling on regulators to reinstate Dr. Manivasan Moodley and to “name those who want Moodley out.” (Dr. Moodley’s licence under the foreign-trained doctor program has been revoked.) One prominent doctor in the community noted that none of these allegations have been proven and speculated that they had been “leaked so people will stay away.” 

It is true. These complaints have not been proven. They have been investigated and are now, following that investigation, scheduled to be heard in a disciplinary hearing in February.   

Dr. Moodley is entitled to a fair hearing in which he is given the ability to fully respond to these allegations. Rallies and petitions to reinstate him prior to this process, and public cries which appear to call for the naming of those who have accused him may place this hearing, and its fairness, in jeopardy. The two women who have come forward with these allegations will be required to testify at this public hearing. It is difficult to imagine the level of intimidation and fear that this protest may have instilled in these women. It is not difficult to imagine how this might affect their ability to participate as witnesses at Dr. Moodley’s hearing. 


Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons. Image description: Caduceus as a symbol of medicine.

To be certain, doctors and other health-care providers bear the same freedom of expression as the rest of us. They are entitled to hold rallies in front of hospitals and protest as they see fit. Indeed, their education, relative socioeconomic power and social status makes their voices and perspectives on the social and health issues affecting our communities both needed and authoritative. Their voices have impact.   

Health-care providers, like all community leaders, should think carefully about how and for what purposes they choose to marshal the power of their voices.   

Without question, the chants to “bring (Dr.) Moodley back” before these complaints have been adjudicated, and calls for the names of those who “want him out,” will be heard. They will be heard by women who have experienced sexual harassment, assault, or misconduct and are contemplating coming forward but are afraid that no one will believe them. They will be heard by patients who believe that they have been the victim of sexual misconduct by their doctor but are afraid to tell anyone for fear that they will lose their doctor or be blamed by others if the doctor is disciplined.

They will certainly have registered with the two women facing the formidable prospect of participating as complaining witnesses at Dr. Moodley’s hearing.   


Elaine Craig is associate professor, Schulich School of Law, at Dalhousie University, and research director, Canadian Centre for Legal Innovation in Sexual Assault Response. @ElaineCraigDal


This commentary was originally published in the Chronicle Herald

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