Updated Dec. 9 at 10:17 p.m.
Five of the 17 on-campus sexual assaults reported to city police in the last four years took place at GW Hospital, with hospital staff identified as the perpetrators in at least two cases.
The alleged offenses included three counts of rape, with victims ranging from a 28-year-old woman to a 66-year-old man. Two reported they were medicated at the time of the incidents.
One case involving rape remains open. Two misdemeanor sexual abuses resulted in an arrest, which could carry a maximum prison sentence of six months in D.C.
Steven Taubenkibel, a spokesman for GW Hospital, declined to comment on the allegations. He said generally when complaints are made, the hospital will review the case internally and may decide to contact city police.
“The George Washington University Hospital holds the care and safety of every patient, visitor and staff member as our highest priority,” Taubenkibel said in an email. GW holds a 20 percent stake in the hospital, which is mostly owned and operated by a separate corporation named Universal Health Services.
The Hatchet obtained Metropolitan Police Department reports of sexual assaults across campus in the last four years through a Freedom of Information Act request last month.
Taubenkibel declined to comment on whether the hospital staff members accused of assault were disciplined. He also declined to provide details about the hospital’s disciplinary policies or its training procedures related to preventing patient assault.
Three of the crimes reported at the hospital are considered felonies under D.C. law, including the case of a 28-year-old woman who told police that she was raped by an unknown man while receiving medication at GW Hospital in July 2012.
Bridgette Harwood, the director of legal services for the Network for Victim Recovery of D.C., said she was shocked by the number of incidents. She said out of the 360 sexual assaults her group responded to last year, none of the alleged offenders were medical providers.
“Five cases is way too many,” Harwood said. “There is no realm of possibility that it would be OK for this to happen in a medical institution where they have [policies] to prevent a patient from being sexually assaulted.”
In September 2009, a 66-year-old man told police that a male nurse sexually abused him. He reported that the nurse had told him to roll on his side, then the nurse allegedly rubbed the man’s buttock and inserted his finger inside his body.
Five months earlier, a 51-year-old female patient reported that she performed oral sex on a psychiatric technician while she was under the influence of medication. The technician had come into the woman’s room to take her blood pressure.
Both 2009 cases were closed for reasons other than an arrest, which can mean police gathered enough information to charge an offender but the victim could have refused to cooperate with prosecutors or the suspect could have died.
Out of the five cases, one man was arrested. The 49-year-old man, whose name was not included in police records, was accused of touching the breast of a 34-year-old woman and touching the buttocks of another 40-year-old woman with his penis. Police reports did not say whether or not the alleged perpetrator was a hospital employee.
About 80 percent of sexual assaults go unreported, according to a study released last month by the National Research Council. Experts say reporting is even more rare in cases involving medical staff, who have power and sometimes complete control over their patients.
Sherelle Hessell-Gordon, executive director of the D.C. Rape Crisis Center, said victims of assault might feel intimidated to report medical staff to law enforcement because they fear no one will believe them.
“You think of medical personnel as people who help you,” Harwood said. “You can see why someone in a hospital setting may feel even more discouraged to report because of the dynamic there.”
She added that survivors could also hold back from calling police because they blame themselves for the attack.
A look across campus
Across campus, half of the 17 sexual assaults brought to the attention of city police over the last four years remain open cases.
Six of those incidents were misdemeanor assaults, ranging from a 22-year-old male who said he was groped by a taxi driver to a 53-year-old woman who said that two unknown individuals sucked her breast and rubbed her vaginal area in an alleyway.
Three of the incidents were classified as more serious abuses, including a 21-year-old who said he was raped by another man in a bathroom and a 36-year-old woman who said she jumped out of a cab because a co-worker tried to remove her clothes.
The penalties for these assaults – described as first, second or third degree abuses – range from 10 to 30 years in prison, compared to the 10-month maximum sentence for misdemeanor sexual crimes.
The sexual assaults reported to MPD do not necessarily include incidents reported to GW officers or staff, depending on the wishes of the victim.
The University Police Department recorded 48 forcible sex offenses on the Foggy Bottom Campus over the last four years, according to annual security reports. Two of those abuses were recorded by MPD during that time.
GW defines forcible sex offense as any “sexual act directed against another person” when the victim does not or cannot give consent. But UPD Chief Kevin Hay said that definition may not match what city officers consider to be a sexual assault, so some cases may be left out of the city police system.
Other times, sexual assaults are reported to MPD and not University police. Campus police officials ask MPD to provide its on-campus crime statistics each year to create the full picture of sexual assaults and other crime at GW.
- Colleen Murphy contributed reporting