Diagnosis for a victim

Posted by on Apr 7, 2012 in Women Behaving Badly | One Comment

Diagnosis for a victim


From Saturday’s Globe and Mail

Saturday, Aug 7, 2004

It was at 1:10 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 30, last year that I got a lengthy

 e-mail from a woman who told a horrific story of sexual abuse at the hands

 of her family doctor, and begged me to attend his approaching disciplinary

 hearing at the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons, where he was

 facing charges of professional misconduct and incompetence.

“I would really like you to cover the hearing,” she wrote. “Only two per

 cent of women who have been abused come forward to complain to the College

….. I feel if more women knew how to report, and trusted the process, they

 would complain ….. If you or someone from The Globe came to the hearing, I

 would be very co-operative with sharing documents, such as my medical chart,

 his letter of response to my letter of complaint, and so forth.”

She sounded literate, rational and intelligent, and so, the following day,

 the hearing began, and I was there, and for the first time, clamped eyes

 upon the woman, who can’t be identified because of a publication ban, and on

 Dr. Alan Abelsohn.

I mention this to establish a couple of things – first, that the woman, in

 my view anticipating sisterly sympathy, had invited my scrutiny, and second,

 that as lawyers are wont to say, I held no brief for Dr. Abelsohn.

 The tale that unfolded over the course of the next weeks and months was

 considerably more nuanced and less one-sided than the woman had presented  it.

In short, she was a ruinously tricky patient who admitted she had initiated,

 suggested and demanded (and, more important from the doctor’s end, appeared

 to need) the physical contact, he a gentle general practitioner who did some

 counselling on the side, as many GPs do, but was woefully ill-equipped to

 help a woman like this. What happened between them was nothing less than a

 train wreck, with her grabbing the therapeutic reins and him allowing her to

 dictate the course of her own treatment until it grew so bizarre that on a

 half-dozen occasions, with his consent, she was masturbating on the floor of

 his office.

This week, it all culminated with a decision from the discipline committee,

 whose members unanimously found Dr. Abelsohn guilty of professional

 misconduct, via sexual abuse, and of incompetence, but who were sharply

 divided over what role the doctor had played in it all.

Because of that – because two of the four committee members ruled that he

 had not encouraged the sexual acting out and was a “caring, compassionate

 and empathetic physician” who had got in far over his head and far beyond

 his expertise with an astonishingly difficult patient – Dr. Abelsohn will

 not be subject to the automatic revocation of his licence to practice.

He will be sentenced this fall, and though he could still be stripped of his

 licence – that is the most severe potential penalty, with a range of less

 punitive options available – I hope it doesn’t happen.

While the story is instructive on a number of levels for Canadian doctors,

 it is no less so for the rest of us, insofar as it deals with the

 always-shifting rules governing what is acceptable conduct between adult men

 and women.

Broadly speaking, this woman was presumed from the get-go to be a

 truth-teller and a victim – so much so that seven months before Dr.

 Abelsohn’s hearing even began, another committee of the college cheerfully

and quietly paid out $10,000 for her to get counselling.

The corollary, of course, is that Dr. Abelsohn was presumed guilty from the


 In this case, because he had carefully documented the sexually charged

sessions on the woman’s chart -compelling exculpatory evidence, in my view,

of his benign if misguided intentions – he was guilty.

But the presumption of guilt,and the victim status immediately accorded his

 accuser, are not confined to this case, or even to the college and the

 medical profession.

All over Canada, in quasi-judicial proceedings like this one, at similar

 inquiries held by the self-regulating professions, at labour dispute

 tribunals, in family court and even to some degree in the criminal courts,

 the same general presumptions exist: Women are in need of protection from

 men; women rarely lie (“Why would she make it up?” is always the implicit

 question, as though women are not subject to the normal unpleasant human

 characteristics of viciousness, get-even bitterness, or even the raw

 exercise of power for its own satisfying sake), while men lie and are


If this case was governed by the physician’s obligations to the patient

 Dr. Abelsohn was the one, at least in theory, who was in charge, and who

 ought to have called a halt – I believe it was also clouded by them.

 The woman, it turns out, is a”borderline,” short for a person diagnosed

 with a borderline personality disorder, one of the most difficult

 psychiatric disorders to treat and usually accompanied by personal and

 social chaos. Predominantly women, borderlines in other times used to be

 called hysterics, in large measure because of their insatiable neediness and

 chronic manipulation.

Is a borderline’s behaviour a function of her illness, the way that a

 schizophrenic’s is? Does the illness, if that’s what it is, get the

 borderline wholly off the hook for her conduct? Is the former the sole

 explanation for the latter? The experts say yes, but to the layman or the

 cynic – and, I confess, to me – it seems just as plausible that what

 psychiatry has done is formally package up as a disorder what many of us

 would intuitively recognize and know as ordinary, if ugly, human behaviour.

I found the lady to be frankly scary, and even the panel, while on the one

 hand pronouncing Dr. Abelsohn guilty, accorded her testimony no weight, and

 deemed it unreliable. If they could have been stripped of their labels – the

 patient and the doctor – there would have been little doubt that she was the

 schemer, the dissembler, the sexual aggressor and the manipulator of the two.

I have exchanged not a word with either one of them, but I can tell you who

 I would trust, and who would send me scrambling for the nearest exit. And I

 resent, beyond bearing, that I can’t tell you the name of the one who would

 have me running for cover.

1 Comment

  1. Davd
    October 8, 2018

    Thanks for archiving this: I value the actual text for my notes. Perhaps some of you read my first blog on the Kavanaugh confirmation [battle?] “So Long Ago”. I’m working on a sequel arguing that abortion might have been the hidden motive in the battle; and repeating an earlier contention that immodesty can be sexual harassment, especially women’s immodesty.

    Closer to the theme of Earl Silverman and his “MASH”, i am working with a Lutheran pastor and awaiting a meeting with the mayor in Bruderheim, where there might well be enough interest to start a fraternal household funded by the men living together. This would not be a refuge for abused men as much as a place for men to enjoy fellowship, mutual support, and the social efficiency of living in a small group rather than alone. (It should be possible for such a household to give refuge to one or two men, but not several at once. My best estimate right now, is that with a few fraternal households started and showing their merits, a refuge could be started that might shelter several men.)

    As i wrote earlier, i believe the first fraternal households, and the first refuges, should be located in towns, villages, even hamlets where costs are lower, where men like myself who benefit from canine support can keep a dog or two much more comfortably and enjoyably than in a city like Calgary, where we can have an orchard, a big garden, maybe later a forest that will earn some of the costs.

    I see your response form has my name, email, and the everyman.ca url already displayed. My phone number is 780 803 0388, and you can send text to it, it’s a mobile. Let’s work together …