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Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by Mental Health Service Providers

February 3, 2012

The Canadian Mental Health Association recognizes that sexual exploitation and abuse by mental health service providers takes place. The Association also recognizes that without fail such exploitation and abuse are harmful to mental health consumers. Evidence has come from anecdotal reports, complaints to professional associations, and more recently from surveys of the general public and professional groups.

The Canadian Mental Health Association recognizes that sexual exploitation and abuse by mental health service providers takes place. The Association also recognizes that without fail such exploitation and abuse are harmful to mental health consumers. Evidence has come from anecdotal reports, complaints to professional associations, and more recently from surveys of the general public and professional groups.

The nature of the service provider/consumer relationship is one of trust. In these relationships, the locus of power always resides with the mental health service providers. A sexual relationship between a mental health service provider and a consumer is always an abuse of power and a violation of trust. The following are some examples of sexual exploitation and abuse: dating, suggestions of sexual involvement, sexualized conversation, unnecessary probing for sexual information, failure to be concerned about personal boundaries and need for privacy, and sexual contact ranging from inappropriate touching to intercourse and rape.

Principles

  • Sexual exploitation and abuse by mental health service providers are unacceptable and unethical.
  • The mental health service provider is solely responsible for ensuring that relationships with consumers are conducted ethically. Regardless of a consumer’s behaviour, the onus for ethical conduct is on the service provider.
  • In no case should mental health service providers engage in sexual/romantic relationships with a former consumer of their services, even after cessation of such services.
  • Mental health service providers should not accept as clients persons with whom they have previously had a sexual/romantic relationship.

Recommendations

  • Professional associations that represent mental health professionals should have policies regarding sexual exploitation and abuse by professionals.
  • Agencies that employ mental health providers should have policies regarding sexual exploitation and abuse.
  • Professional associations and employing agencies should initiate public education about the rights of consumers to ethical services.
  • Training programs for mental health service providers should include study of power dynamics and ethical conduct in professional relationships.
  • Professional associations and employing agencies should consider means to assist consumers who have been exploited or abused by a member of their profession or organization.
  • Professional associations and employing agencies should consider policies with respect to relevant criminal record convictions and abuse registry checks as part of regulatory, licensing and employment practices.
  • Professional associations and employing agencies should require offenders to seek treatment.

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