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Removing spouses from the definition of sexual abuse

Currently, regulated health professionals are not permitted to treat their spouses. Under the Regulated Health Professions Act, 1991 (RHPA) it is considered sexual abuse, and the penalty is an automatic revocation of a practitioner’s licence to practise for five years.

In 2012, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care received a report on the issue of treatment of spouses and the mandatory revocation, which recommended changing the definition of sexual abuse to exclude spouses. The Ministry changed the RHPA to allow individual professions to decide if they wanted to exempt spouses from the RHPA’s definition. Colleges wishing to exempt spouses are required to submit a regulation allowing this exemption. Such a regulation will apply only to pre-existing spousal or common law relationships. It is always considered sexual abuse to initiate a sexual relationship with an existing patient/client, and, in some cases, former patients/clients.

The College’s Patient Relations Committee considered the issue, and after extensive analysis and consultation with a working group of kinesiologists, recommended to Council that the spouses of registered kinesiologists be exempt from the definition of sexual abuse. Council considered the recommendation and decided to pursue a regulation. The regulation will read:

“Conduct, behaviour or remarks that would otherwise constitute sexual abuse of a patient by a member under the definition of “sexual abuse” in subsection 1(3) of the Health Professions Procedural Code of the Regulated Health Professions Act, 1991, shall not constitute sexual abuse if:

(a) the patient is the member’s spouse; and
(b) the member is not engaged in the practice of kinesiology at the time the conduct, behaviour or remarks occur.”

At its meeting on December 7, 2015, Council considered feedback from the consultation. Respondents were in favour of the exemption, and Council voted to formally submit the regulation to the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care. This regulation will mean that the treatment of spouses will not automatically be deemed sexual abuse.

It’s important to remember that it will take several months for this regulation to come into effect. Until it does, kinesiologists are prohibited from treating spouses beyond any minor, episodic or emergency care. Please refer to the College’s Practice Guideline- Professional Boundaries and the Prevention of Sexual Abuse. The College will notify kinesiologists when the regulation comes into effect.

Some colleges are pursuing a similar regulation, and some are not. If you are registered with another college, it is important to know each college’s position on this matter.