In 2017, a light was shed on sexual assault in government and the entertainment industry. And while the momentum carrying the #MeToo movement grows, one industry quietly sweeps its harassment cases under the rug.
The Cleveland Clinic, one of the United States' most renowned hospitals, was in on at least two cases in which one of its surgeons was accused of raping patients but kept him on their staff while reaching a silent settlement with the accusers.
Ryan Williams, who worked at the Cleveland Clinic as a colorectal surgeon, was accused by two women in 2008 and 2009 of rape. During the summer of 2017, Williams left the Cleveland Clinic to start working for another hospital, which has now placed him on leave after learning of the accusations.
In the first incident, patient Lachelle Duncan saw Williams for a rectal exam when she ran from the room exclaiming that he had inserted his penis in her rectum and was then holding it in her hand. Duncan claimed she asked him, "Why did you do this," to which Williams simply replied, "I don't know."
According to the police report, Duncan's rape kit proved inconclusive. There was, however, presence of semen in Williams' examination room, which Williams said was the result of masturbation to relieve stress. Duncan later sued the Cleveland Clinic, which led to a confidential settlement between her and the hospital.
In the second incident, patient Kristin Fehr saw Williams to have a hemorrhoid removed. Williams instructed her to take two white pills and some water, and then things got blurry. In 2014, however, Fehr said flashbacks of being pushed from behind and turning around to see Williams holding his penis would return when she would go to the doctor or a hospital.
"Everything I was remembering was disturbing," Fehr said.
Clinical psychologist, Jim Hopper, said that the kind of retrieval of memories that Fehr was experiencing is not uncommon, as oftentimes the human brain will "retrieve information from memories based on the context we're in."
Fehr said she was so "overwhelmed by feelings of horror" that she was eventually too afraid to leave her apartment. She left her job and moved in with her parents. After telling the hospital about her experience with Williams, she was sure the hospital would fire Williams. But then she began to see promotional videos and positive articles about him online. That was when she finally went to the police to file a report.
As for Duncan's report, however, it "was ordered expunged by Common Pleas Court Judge John Russo."
What does that mean exactly? Pretty much that Duncan's case was treated as though it never existed.
This is an explosive story identifying the next industry likely to be hit with a wave of sexual misconduct scandals: https://t.co/i3hkFoYprj— Jake Novak (@jakejakeny) January 5, 2018
Williams was never charged with a crime after Fehr's police report. After he moved last summer to Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, USA Today contacted the organization to ask about the allegations. A spokesperson stated that it was the "first we've heard of any allegations regarding this physician," and the next morning Williams was put on paid administrative leave.
The same type of secret settlements Williams was able to succeed in getting are frequently criticized when provided to government officials or Hollywood tycoons, yet are rarely discussed when used in health care.
What's worse is that they can compromise patients' health and safety because they essentially allow an attacker to continue this gruesome behavior after receiving a small slap on the wrist.
"They went to great lengths to cover it up and there was just no way for someone to be warned, to know what could happen," Fehr said. "They can just make it completely disappear and that kind of environment, it almost encourages these kinds of crimes."
Those who take advantage of people by abusing their power, like Williams, must be held accountable. They do not deserve for their crimes to be held in secret and away from the public.