Understanding Sexual Abuse

The College of Physiotherapists of Ontario exists to protect the interests of the public and sees any form of sexual abuse or sexual boundary crossing as unacceptable. The College, like other health regulators in Ontario, has a zero tolerance approach to sexual abuse.  

If you believe you or someone you know has been sexually abused by a physiotherapist we urge you to contact the Professional Conduct team at 416-591-3828 ext. 227 or 1-800-583-5885 ext. 227.

What is Sexual Abuse?

For health care providers in Ontario, the Regulated Health Professions Act (RHPA) defines sexual abuse not only as sexual intercourse with a patient, but also touching or remarks of a sexual nature directed towards a patient. This means a physiotherapist is not allowed to:

  • have sex of any form with a patient
  • touch a patient in a sexual way
  • make comments of a sexual nature or behave in a sexual way towards a patient
  • have an intimate personal relationship with a patient 

Please note that this does not apply to touching, behaviours or comments that are of a clinical nature and are appropriate to the care provided.

We have information about sexual abuse and how to recognize inappropriate touching available in 10 different languages

What Should You Do if You Suspect Sexual Abuse by a Physiotherapist?

If you think that you or someone you know has been sexually abused by a physiotherapist, please contact the Professional Conduct team at investigations@collegept.org or call 416-591-3828 ext. 227 or 1-800-583-5885 ext. 227 to discuss the options. Don't assume that someone else will report the physiotherapist, it's imperative that the College investigates these situations to help protect the public.

Mandatory Reporting 

Regulated health professionals, including physiotherapists and those who work with or employ them have legal and ethical obligations to make reports to the College of Physiotherapists of Ontario and other colleges and agencies as required under the Regulated Health Professions Act - this is called Mandatory Reporting.

How Can the College Help?

Every concern is thoroughly investigated. This can be a very difficult time and the College is committed to helping every patient navigate the situation as smoothly as possible. Please note that if you do wish to file a formal complaint with the College, you must provide your name as it will need to be shared with the physiotherapist in question. Please review the Complaints Process in more detail or call the College if you have further questions. 

After making a complaint against a physiotherapist alleging sexual abuse, funding for therapy or counselling may be available to you. The Patient Relation Committee at the College oversees the funding.  

How to Recognize Sexual Abuse

Because of the way that sexual abuse of a patient is defined in the law, it is difficult to describe exactly the kinds of actions that might be considered to be sexual abuse of a patient by a physiotherapist. If you have questions you should contact the College Physiotherapy Information Advisor to discuss your concerns. 

The list below includes some examples of actions or behaviours that are likely inappropriate on the part of the physiotherapist. These behaviours can be obvious or subtle and words can be as damaging as actions. Contact the College if you experience any of the following with your physiotherapist:   

  • Any unwanted sexual attention or behaviour, for example kissing or hugging in a sexual way.
  • Sexual touching, for example touching your buttocks, breasts, genitals or any other areas in a way that is not needed for therapy.
  • Sexually suggestive or seductive remarks, for example, comments about your sexual relationships or sexual orientation or inappropriate sexual remarks or questions about your appearance or clothing.
  • Sexually insulting or offensive comments or jokes.
  • Not asking for permission before touching you.
  • Anything that makes you feel uneasy.

What is Appropriate Touching?

Physiotherapists use their hands to touch various parts of the body to assess and provide treatment to patients. The College has rules that describe how physiotherapists are expected to behave in order to show that they are acting in the best interest of their patients. When touching occurs as part of your therapy you can expect that:

    • The physiotherapist will tell you what he or she is going to do before touching you.
    • The physiotherapist will ask your permission to touch you.
    • You will be allowed to ask questions or express any concerns.
    • You will feel respected.
    • The touching will be necessary for your treatment.
    • You can ask that an activity be stopped at any time if you are feeling uneasy.
    • You can withdraw your consent or change your mind about the activity at any time. 

    What can a patient do if they are feeling uneasy during a therapy session? 

    1. Tell the physiotherapist to stop.
    2. Ask the physiotherapist to explain what he or she is doing and why he or she is doing it.
    3. Refuse to continue with the therapy if feeling uneasy. 

    Appropriate Boundaries to Prevent Sexual Abuse

    The relationship between a patient and a physiotherapist is a professional one that is all about a patient receiving necessary care or therapy from a professional. This is called a therapeutic relationship. Patients trust their care to a physiotherapist because of their unique knowledge and skills. Patients should expect that the physiotherapist will respect their needs and act in a caring and professional manner. 

    If a therapeutic relationship exists, physiotherapists are not allowed to have an intimate personal relationship with a patient. A physiotherapist should be friendly and polite, but should not develop an intimate personal relationship with you in or out of the clinic or practice setting, while you are a patient. This is considered sexual abuse, even if you consent to the relationship. The physiotherapist is the one responsible for maintaining an appropriate relationship with patient. 

    If you have questions about the physiotherapy care that you received please contact the Physiotherapy Information Advisor at the College for free confidential advice. Get in touch by email at advice@collegept.org or by calling 647-484-8800 or 1-800-583-5885 ext. 241.