This doctor was convicted of raping a sedated patient. Yet he won’t set foot in jail.

shafeeq sheikh

 

Warning: This article includes details of a sexual assault case.

Laura can remember the fear that gripped her when a doctor started touching her in a way she knew wasn’t normal.

She was 27 and lying in a Texas hospital bed, heavily sedated and tethered to machines. She had just suffered a severe asthma attack, and she remembers the person in the white coat who was meant to care for her committing the most vile act of betrayal.

She remembers his hands moving over her chest, her legs and beneath her underwear.

She remembers wanting to scream and to struggle, but being too weak to move.

She remembers being turned over and raped, but her body incapable of responding.

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She remembers trying to press the nurse’s call button, once, twice, three times, but no one came. The device was unplugged.

She remembers desperately using her only remaining power: her vision. She remembers trying to glimpse his face, his shoes, anything, in the room’s darkness, so she could stash his memory away.

“It’s the feeling that you can’t do anything. You can’t do anything to save yourself,” said the mother-of-two – whose identity has been protected – in an interview with the Houston Chronicle, two years after the November 2013 incident.

PTSD
"It's the feeling that you can't do anything." Image: Getty.

Her attacker was named as Dr Shafeeq Sheikh. It took two years for police to charge him, after they found that surveillance video and his ID badge placed him on her ward on the night of the attack at Ben Taub Hospital. DNA evidence also helped catch him, as Laura had requested a rape kit the following morning.

After 15 hours of deliberation, a jury last week found Sheikh guilty of rape. The maximum sentence for this crime in Texas is 20 years in jail.

How much time will Sheikh serve behind bars?

None.

Instead, Sheikh was sentenced to a 10-year probation.

The probation carries with it a lifetime of being registered as a sex offender, and Sheikh was stripped of his medical licence in 2015.

But let me repeat what has just happened: a man has raped a barely-conscious woman, and he gets to walk free. And not just any man. A doctor who was supposed to care for a woman who was struggling to breathe, and instead he abused his power over her. To say this is a slap on the wrist is an understatement.

The Houston Police Chief described the court outcome as "beyond troubling".

"A hideous crime is committed in a hospital room which should be a sanctuary for patients,” Art Acevedo tweeted. “So many new norms that run contrary to what we’ve always stood for, I pray no accountability for harming people isn’t one of them."

During the trial, Sheikh claimed he and Laura had consensual sex and that she "came onto him" by touching his penis first, the Chronicle reports.

Sheikh's defence spoke of the woman's career as an actress and model. They showed jurors photos she'd posted apparently posing "provocatively".

They even suggested she seduced Sheikh with her "fake boobs" to make her husband jealous and win money in a civil lawsuit.

"He made a mistake, but he didn’t sexually assault her," attorney Lisa Andrews said. "Here we have this Latina woman with her fake boobs that came onto that little nerdy middle-aged guy, and he lost his mind."

How this breed of ludicrous victim-blaming continues to be allowed to play out in courtrooms is baffling.

The defence's arguments were shameful, and yet they were precisely what persuaded jurors to opt for the lighter sentence. It's a result that has led the case to be widely compared to the trial of Brock Turner - the Stanford University student who served three months in prison for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster.

In Australia, about 85 per cent of sexual assaults never come to the attention of the criminal justice system. For context, in 2017 there were 24,957 reported sexual assault victims nationally. But can you blame the tens of thousands of sexual assault survivors for not reporting when society still refuses to treat violence against women seriously and respectfully?

Laura has spent five long years waiting for justice. She continues to nurse her wounds from the incident, and she will do so for the rest of her life. She has not indicated if she will launch a civil lawsuit - however she is perfectly entitled to - and she has an entirely legitimate career in fashion. What she does for work on social media and how she chooses to dress have nothing to do with how a doctor chose to take advantage of a vulnerable patient.

“Doctors know they have immense power over their patients: They have power over their bodies, over their information and their privacy,” said prosecutor Lauren Reeder. “Patients give this access, this vulnerability to their doctors. They subject themselves to the bright lights (and) the poking and prodding in hopes that doctors will use that power to heal.”

Here we have a situation where a woman was weak, in pain and heavily medicated. She needed help, and she was horrifically raped. The sentencing outcome should have been a no-brainer. But apparently, in 2018, we still have a long way to go.

If this article brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. 

What do you think of Dr Shafeeq Sheikh's sentencing? Tell us in the comments below.

You can follow Sophie Aubrey on Twitter.

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