California doctor sexual-misconduct allegations rise sharply since #MeToo era began
A Berkeley pediatrician was treating a teenager for anxiety and panic attacks. A few months into his therapy appointments, he began showing the boy pictures of men masturbating as well as other pornographic images, according to state documents.
During several appointments, the doctor instructed the boy to masturbate and watched as he did so. He later had the boy perform oral sex on him.
Late last year, the Medical Board of California stripped the doctor, Bayard Allmond, 84, of his license to practice.
Allmond is part of a growing wave of California doctors who have faced sexual misconduct allegations in the last two years.
Since fall of 2017, the number of complaints against physicians for sexual misconduct has risen 62%, a jump that coincides with the beginning of the #MeToo movement, according to a Times analysis of California medical board data.
During that same time, medical boards across the country also noticed a surge in sexual misconduct complaints, according to Joe Knickrehm, spokesman for the nonprofit Federation of State Medical Boards, though figures were not available.
Many experts link the increase to societal shifts spurred by the #MeToo movement, which encouraged victims to speak out, as well as noteworthy abuse cases involving medical professionals.
In 2018, Larry Nassar, a former USA Gymnastics doctor, was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison for molesting young athletes. The same year, hundreds of women came forward to accuse former longtime USC gynecologist George Tyndall of inappropriate behavior. In June, former UCLA gynecologist James Heaps was charged with sexual battery and exploitation during his treatment of two patients at a university facility.
As these stories permeate, patients have become more vocal in the doctor’s office, seeking to know what physicians are doing each step of an exam, doctors say. They are also more willing to speak up if something bothers them, empowered by these recent revelations, said Dr. Sheryl Ross, an OB-GYN in Santa Monica.
“It’s a look, it’s a touch, it’s having a man rub up against you with an erection — it’s subtle things that I think women didn’t always have an understanding that this is inappropriate,” Ross said. “The days of just sitting back and having the doctor tell you what to do are gone.”
The California medical board, which licenses more than 140,000 physicians, has the power to take away a doctor’s license if it decides that person has acted inappropriately and violated the terms of their license. Anyone can file a misconduct complaint with the board, which will then be investigated by staff.
During the fiscal year that ended in June, the California medical board received 11,406 complaints against physicians and surgeons, the most it has ever received. Complaints of sexual misconduct, though small in number, are among the fastest growing type of allegation.
In fiscal year 2017–2018, 280 complaints were filed against physicians for sexual misconduct, compared with 173 the previous year. In the 2018–2019 fiscal year, there were 279.
The Times obtained data on sexual misconduct through public records requests to the medical board, which does not typically publicize sexual misconduct complaint numbers and has not yet published any data from the 2018–19 fiscal year.
The misconduct by Allmond, the Berkeley physician, occurred in 2016, but it appears the patient did not report it to police or the medical board until late 2017. Last year, Allmond pleaded no contest to a felony count of sending harmful matter to a minor with sexual intent.