In the Harvey Weinstein era, it’s not an unfamiliar headline: “UW plastic surgeon had medical license suspended in New York following inappropriate sexual encounter.” The reveal of another man in a position of power with an inappropriate sexual history barely seems newsworthy.
Throughout the last few months, as celebrities, politicians and professors fell to accusations of sexual misconduct, our horror has turned to resignation. Our idols have fallen into disgraced silence, stripped of awards, recognition and future success — as they should be.
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Despite the intense condemnation of Larry Nassar, one group has largely evaded the blows of the #MeToo era and, against all odds, continues to do so. They occupy a deeply trusted space within society. They see men and women at their most vulnerable. They are, arguably, the last group that should have any evidence of sexual transgression or misconduct.
Last week The Badger Herald reported University of Wisconsin Health surgeon John Siebert had an inappropriate sexual relationship with a patient from 2006-08. The incident occurred in another state and resulted in a suspension of his medical license for three years. In 2011, UW Health hired Siebert, where he is now an endowed chair.
Despite this, it wasn’t until 2013 UW Health addressed Siebert’s conduct. Following a ruling in New York that required Siebert have a chaperone when visiting female patients, UW Health instituted a similar policy. Unlike the decision in New York, however, this stipulation can be revisited and is not required to be disclosed to the public.
UPDATED: UW surgeon’s history of sexual misconduct reprehensible, but accepting responsibility crucial first stepOn March 7, The Badger Herald published an article exploring the past of University of Wisconsin plastic surgeon John Siebert. Read…
Siebert may be an exceptionally talented doctor. He may have provided invaluable care to patients across the state. He may have agreed to the chaperone stipulation.
But Siebert was not punished in any significant ways for his conduct. In fact, by all impressions, he has been rewarded for it. The Wisconsin medical board described Siebert’s inappropriate sexual relations as “a minor or technical violation … not seriously harmful to the public.”
In the #MeToo and #TimesUp era, these statements have not aged well. The fact that Sibert requires a chaperone around women and cannot be trusted to interact with them appropriately should draw shock and outrage. The fact that his medical license was suspended should concern us.
But he is a world-class surgeon — for that reason alone, these facts don’t seem to matter.
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But these questions of morality and responsibility, laid out plainly, should be grappled with every second he occupies a position of immense power.
How do we explain to women seeking medical treatment their doctor has had a history of inappropriate sexual relations? How do we explain to students a man’s abilities and profitability are far more important than his conduct?
How can we believe UW is committed to preventing sexual assault and harassment when its endowed chair is emblematic of the kind of toxic masculinity it is denouncing?
In response to faculty sexual misconduct allegations, UW recognizes need for improvementNearly 100 formal complaints of sexual misconduct have been made against University of Wisconsin System faculty since 2014, a report Read…
Siebert may never interact with another patient inappropriately again. But the fact he was hired rather than sanctioned indicates exactly where UW’s priorities lie: Not with patient safety, transparency or even a smidgen of accountability, but with the tacit approval of sexual misconduct by powerful, privileged men.
Julia Brunson ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in history.