How is this even legal?
This is the question most people ask when they first hear about non-consensual pelvic exams under anesthesia. There is a long history in medical education of using patients to teach students. Most patients are altruistic and want to help budding doctors–but they want to be asked and have their choices respected. Unfortunately, the medical lens tends to be different–there is a certain level of entitlement to patient bodies that still hasn’t shifted entirely, although it is changing slowly.
The reality is that if there is no law on the books outlawing intimate exams on patients who are anesthetized or otherwise incapacitated, patients have no recourse. Even though in any other situation this behavior would be considered assault, within medicine, there is an idea that doctors are the authorities over the body and can do what they need to do without needing to ask patients unless there are laws and policies that explicitly state that this is not okay. Protocols need to be put in place at the institutional level for medical programs and how their students should conduct themselves, the clinics and hospitals need policies and oversight of individual doctors who might ask students to do unethical, non-consensual exams, and we need laws making it clear that this is not okay.
How do I know if this is against the law in my state?
To date there are laws in 21 states banning this practice. Check out this map of the United States to see if there is a law in your state. If not, please work with us to get one passed. We are doing advocacy all over the U.S. until we have laws in all 50 states.
Does this happen to men and people of other genders?
Yes, it does. We know that rectal and prostate exams are also done under anesthesia, without consent, for teaching purposes. We are advocating for laws that include people of all genders and all intimate exams because no internal exam on a patient’s most private body parts without their consent is ethical. We hope you’ll join us to get more laws passed.
How do I know if I have been the victim of a non-consensual pelvic/rectal/prostate exam while unconscious? And if so, what can I do?
We are so sorry that you think this may have happened to you. There are a couple of courses of action you can take to find out if this occurred.
First, you can request your treatment records pertaining to the surgery, procedure, or hospital stay during which you think this may have happened to you. You do not have to disclose the reason for wanting these records. However, you should know that these exams are often not listed in records, so if you do not find any notes listing an intimate examination it does not definitively mean you were not given one. It is, however, a good starting point.
Second, if upon obtaining and reviewing your records, you find there is no documentation of an intimate examination, you can either call your doctor’s office or the hospital at which you received treatment or make an appointment with your doctor and ask them directly. They may be able to confirm.
Last, if there is no record of an exam and nobody confirms it for you, unfortunately there is still a chance that it happened.
If it is confirmed that this happened or you strongly believe it has, despite not being able to find a record of such, we recommend finding a local support group or a therapist that specializes in trauma recovery. We are sorry that there are no better options available at this time – that is one of the things we are fighting very hard to change.
Please know that you are not alone. There is an entire community of people who share this and similar struggles, and the one thing we have in common is this – none of us, including you, did anything wrong or anything to deserve it. We hope you are able to find peace and healing, and we promise to continue fighting until nobody ever has to ask this question again.