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Professional Sexual Exploitation

Professional sexual exploitation is considered to be unethical and, in some jurisdictions, unlawful. In this article, we’ll define the term “professional sexual exploitation” and explain what kind of actions victims can take. 

Key Takeaways

  • Professional sexual exploitation is sexual conduct of any kind between helping professionals and their clients
  • Helping professionals include lawyers, therapists, doctors, and more
  • Professional sexual exploitation is grounds for licensed professionals to lose their licenses
  • Victims of professional sexual exploitation may complain to the licensing board, file a civil lawsuit, and - in some states - file a criminal lawsuit

What Is Professional Sexual Exploitation?

Professional sexual exploitation, also called sexual exploitation in professional relationships, sexual exploitation by helping professionals, or professional exploitation refers to sexual 

conduct of any kind between a professional and a person seeking or receiving their service. 

These professionals may include:

  • Lawyers
  • Therapists
  • Religious leaders
  • Doctors
  • Professors
  • Police officers
  • Teachers

Professional sexual exploitation is an issue because the professional is in a position of power over their clients or patients, making it difficult for them to give consent. The client has put trust in the professional, and a betrayal of that trust can have serious consequences including:

  • Difficulty with intimacy
  • Loss of trust
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depression
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Feelings of shame, guilt, or anger
  • Increased risk of suicide

The professional has a responsibility to protect the interests of their clients and not to serve their own needs. 

For these reasons, professional sexual exploitation is considered unethical and can be grounds for malpractice and loss of licenses in every licensed profession.

Types of Professional Sexual Exploitation

There are three types of professional sexual exploitation: 

  • Sexual activity in the context of a professional service, treatment, or evaluation
  • Sexual activity with the implication this it has a therapeutic benefit
  • A sexually exploitative relationship

Professional Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Assault Law

Victims of professional sexual exploitation have several options for how to take action.

First, they may complain to the professional licensing board. Licensing standards vary from state to state, but possible punishments include suspension of a license, revocation of a license, and rehabilitation programs.

Additionally, the victim can file a civil lawsuit. In a civil lawsuit, the victim can recover damages by hiring an attorney and suing the professional directly. 

Finally, some but not all states have laws against members of certain helping professions having sexual relationships with current or former patients within a certain period of time. In those states, victims may pursue a criminal lawsuit. In a criminal lawsuit, the state will prosecute and seek a criminal penalty such as probation, incarceration, and/or fines.

It is estimated that only 4 to 8% of professional sexual exploitation survivors report the exploitation. This may be because they are afraid they will not be believed, or they do not realize they were harmed.

If you have been a victim of professional sexual exploitation, it is recommended that you speak to an experienced lawyer who will be able to advise you regarding what the best next steps for you may be.

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