Dr Louise Stone from the ANU Medical School is telling a story that is so hard to tell, and so hard to hear, that it was almost never told at all.
“I’m a GP, and one of my patients, herself a doctor, came to see me.
“She was a very assertive woman, but this time she looked completely diminished, and I couldn’t work out what was going on.
“It took me consultation after consultation after consultation speaking to her, until she was able to say why she was there: she had been raped by another doctor, her consultant, in the hospital where they worked.
“I was the first person she told and we had to tell her psychologist about it together because she couldn’t actually say it. She was paralysed with shame.
“That patient changed me.”
Dr Stone realised one of the difficulties for her patient was speaking about abuse by a doctor to another doctor, an unavoidable representative of her abuser, making for “a really difficult dynamic.”
“I went looking for literature about this and I couldn’t find any.
“Every conference I went to that year, I asked the senior GPs if they had seen a patient like this and many of them had, so I thought, where is the literature on this?
“We know that 59 percent of medical students have experienced bullying and harassment and 33 percent of medical students have experienced sexual harassment. I doubt it stops as soon as they graduate and become doctors. We just don’t know what happens.”
Dr Stone wants to find out.
She has launched a research project into sexual assault of doctors by doctors, and is looking for both participants and funding.
“We have a whole lot of doctors with trauma, and they’re treating patients. How do they treat someone else who’s suffered from sexual assault? How does it affect their careers? We don’t know any of this.
“I’m actually not interested in telling another sad story and publishing it in a journal. If we’re going to make a difference, we’ve got to make a difference at a policy level and get stories of abuse heard so they’re not in a narrative vacuum.
“My patient couldn’t find the words. If there are stories out there, maybe other sufferers can find the words to grow and develop past that trauma.”