NJ Doctor License Suspended for Sex Abuse Charges
When you examine the disciplinary records from state boards of medicine, doctors are rarely punished for sexually abusing their patients. The numbers suggest the medical profession has few problems with predatory doctors. Patients often tell a very different story, however.
We begin with the story of Saad Saad, a 72 year old pediatric surgeon in Monmouth County, New Jersey. From there we will examine the larger problems within the medical profession.
NJ State Board of Medical Examiners Suspends Saad’s License
There is no reason why we singled out Dr. Saad. He is one of hundreds of doctors accused each year of sexual misconduct. In August of 2017 the New Jersey Board of Medical Examiners suspended Saad’s license to practice medicine after he was charged with second degree endangering the welfare of a child and fourth degree criminal sexual contact. His alleged victim? A 17 year old female patient.
Immediately after he was indicted, the state suspended his license. State Attorney General Christopher Porrino released a statement saying,
"This is sickening misconduct, if true. A doctor who sexually exploits a patient, especially one that is underage, has no place in the medical profession. Public safety demands that this doctor be removed from practice while these very serious charges are pending against him.”
Shortly after the charges became public, three more teens stepped forward. Ultimately, he was indicted on a total of 10 charges.
Before the cases could go to trial, the trial judge reduced the second degree endangering the welfare charges from second degree felonies to third degree. Although that may not sound like much it can mean a huge difference if convicted. A 2nd degree felony in N.J. carries a sentence of up to 10 years on each count. By reducing the felonies to 3rd degree, Saad faced just 3 to 5 years.
The court reduced the charges because Saad didn’t have a long term relationship with any of the alleged victims. Prosecutors appealed but lost again before a state appeals court which ruled,
“Defendant's relationship to the victims was solely that of their physician. While he had a professional obligation to provide appropriate medical treatment to his patients, an obligation he utterly violated if the State's allegations are proven true, defendant did not assume a general and ongoing responsibility for their care [as required by state law].
As of May 2020, the case remains ongoing.
It has been years since the victims came forward, the charges are still pending and a judge reduced the most serious charges on a technicality.
Unfortunately, some victims are reluctant to come forward because sexual assault charges against doctors can drag on for years. If there is any good news here, the state board of medicine suspended his license and the trial judge ordered him to stay away from minors. Saad Saad has reportedly since retired from practice.
Why Are So Few Doctor Patient Sexual Assaults Reported?
California is known for being very rigorous in its oversight of physicians. According to the Atlantic, however, California only receives about 200 complaints per year of sexual misconduct by doctors. And in only 20 cases did the state’s medical board find discipline warranted. Some offenders have been charged, placed on probation or suspended only to come back and reoffend.
With statistics like that, why would any victim want to come forward?
Finally in 2018 California passed legislation requiring doctors on probation for sexual misconduct with a patient to inform their patients that they are on probation and why. We wonder why they are even allowed to practice while on probation.
Only since Larry Nassar was accused of sexually abusing hundreds of his patients did this dark corner of medicine start to get the attention it deserves.
The trade association for state medical licensing officials says there are two types of sexual misconduct involving doctors.
The first is “sexual impropriety” which involves such things as watching a patient undress or making inappropriate comments. The more serious misconduct involves what they call “sexual violations.” This category includes “physical sexual contact with the patient (such as kissing, sexual intercourse, or touching any sexualized body part for purposes outside an exam), offering drugs in exchange for sexual acts, masturbate[ing] in their presence, or encouraging a patient to masturbate.”
A 2017 study found that doctors that engage in sexual misconduct usually have done so numerous times. By the time a patient does come forward there have probably been other victims.
I Have Been Assaulted by My Doctor, Now What?
When doctors graduate from med school, they take the Hippocratic oath. One of the main promises of that oath is “Do no harm.” No patient should ever experience any form of sexual abuse or sexual impropriety by a physician.
For too long, state medical boards and hospitals have been acted more to protect doctors instead of patients. When action is taken, the focus is more often on rehabilitation of the offending doctors instead of protecting patients.
Just like the Roman Catholic Church for many years seemed to have a practice of moving pedophile priests to different parishes and requiring them to undergo reeducation, many state medical boards only make doctors take ethics classes or place them on probation.
Should a doctor lose his or her license for one inappropriate comment? Probably not but doctors who fondle patients or sexually molest patients shouldn’t get a second chance either. When doctors abuse their position of trust with a patient the only response can be permanent loss of one’s license to practice medicine.
Patients rely on their doctor to for their physical well-being. They are well respected in the community. Many victims are afraid to come forward. How did Larry Nassar molest a reported 200 plus victims before getting caught? It’s because most victims don’t report abuse by a trusted doctor.
When victims do come forward, we expect that medical board to act aggressively and quickly to investigate and prosecute those cases as warranted.
If you are the victim of sexual misconduct by a physician, contact a lawyer that handles sexual abuse cases. Medical boards know they can’t easily sweep cases under the rug when a good lawyer is involved. Depending on your comfort level, your lawyer can help you report the offender to both the police and state licensing agencies. If the physician has hospital privileges, he or she can also be reported to the hospital. The goals are to get justice for you and to stop any further abuse.
Licensing board and the criminal justice system are useful tools in the fight against sexual misconduct by doctors. There is more, however. In all fifty states, doctors who engage in sexual misconduct can be sued and held responsible for monetary damages. In many instances, the hospital or clinic where they work can also be held responsible.
Are you a victim of sexual misconduct by a doctor? We can help*. Contact us online, by email [hidden email] or by phone at 877.858.8018. All inquiries are kept confidential and protected by the attorney – client privilege.
*We know some victims are reluctant to come forward. Trust is a big issue for many. Surveys say that most victims are female (between 89% and 90%). We can help match you with a female attorney if that makes you more comfortable.
Attorney Brian Mahany is a former police officer, prosecutor, member of the Family Violence Project and volunteer at the Sexual Assault Crisis and Support Center.