Sexual Abuse and Misconduct

CAO WEBSITE -sexual abuse

Supporting Patients

The Health Professions Act (HPA) aims to protect patients who have experienced sexual abuse and misconduct while receiving health care services. This includes:

  • A standardized complaint response to sexual abuse and misconduct;
  • Providing clear definitions of sexual abuse and misconduct;
  • Requiring criminal record checks for all health professionals;
  • Mandating sexual abuse and misconduct training for members of health colleges;
  • Requiring trauma informed care training for college staff, Council members, and hearing tribunal members; and
  • Ensuring that resources and supports are offered to patients who have been sexually abused by their health care providers.

COA Patient Relations Program

Part 8.2 of the HPA requires colleges to establish a patient relations program and provide funding for treatment and counselling. The COA’s Patient Relations Program includes the following:

  • Educational requirements for registrants: The Alberta Federation of Regulated Health Professions developed three training modules for healthcare professionals called Protecting Patients from Sexual Abuse and Misconduct. All COA registrants are required to complete this training. Registrants access the training through the COA Learning Platform
  • Educational guidelines for the conduct of registrants towards patients: Standard 8 (Professional Boundaries) of the COA Standards of Practice sets enforceable rules of conduct to which registered opticians must adhere.   
  • Training requirements for staff, council members, and tribunal members: All staff, council members, and tribunal members are required to complete Trauma-Informed Care training provided by the Alberta Federation of Regulated Health Professions. Access to this training is granted by the College.
  • Information for persons respecting the college’s complaint process: Our File a Complaint page includes information on the COA’s complaint process. The Alberta Federation of Regulated Health Professions has also published an overview about filing a Sexual Abuse or Sexual Misconduct Complaint.
  • Assistance in directing persons to appropriate resources: The COA will support patients with understanding the complaint process. For support please contact the COA Complaints Director at 780-429-2694 or
  • Funding for treatment/counselling: The COA provides funding for patients who allege they have experienced sexual abuse or sexual misconduct while receiving care from a registered optician. Homewood Health provides this service on behalf of the COA. For more information on available funding, please contact: Homewood Health at 1-866-826-4400.

Sexual Abuse Definition

In the HPA, sexual abuse is defined as “the threatened, attempted, or actual conduct of a regulated member towards a patient that is of a sexual nature* and includes any of the following conduct:

  • Sexual intercourse between a patient and a regulated member;
  • Genital to genital, genital to anal, oral to genital, or oral to anal contact between a regulated member and a patient;
  • Masturbation of a regulated member by or in the presence of a patient;
  • Masturbation of a regulated member’s patient;
  • Encouraging a regulated member’s patient to masturbate; and
  • Touching of a sexual nature of a patient’s genitals, anus, breasts, or buttocks by a regulated member.”

*Sexual nature does not include any conduct, behaviour, or remarks that are appropriate to the services provided.

Sexual Misconduct Definition

In the HPA, sexual misconduct is defined as “any incident or repeated incidents of objectionable or unwelcome conduct, behaviour, or remarks of a sexual nature by a regulated member who knows or ought reasonably to know will or would cause offence or humiliation to the patient or adversely affect the patient’s health and well-being, but does not include sexual abuse.”

Some examples* of sexual misconduct include:

  • Inappropriate jokes or slurs; 
  • Inappropriate touching that is not included in the list of acts constituting sexual abuse;
  • Something inappropriate said to a patient by their health care provider;
  • Something inappropriate said by a health care provider, overheard by their patient; and
  • Suggestive body language.

*This is not a complete list, but a few examples of what may constitute sexual misconduct.

If you feel that you have been sexually abused or subjected to sexual misconduct by your health care provider, please contact their regulatory college. The COA regulates opticians and will sensitively handle all complaints against opticians, including those of a sexual nature.

Please visit our File a Complaint page to download our complaint form and submit a complaint.