The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

Dr Sabi Lal – The Rapist Doctor is Back and Practicing

Posted by caitlinate on October 29, 2008

Sabi Lal

Sabi Lal

In 2002 “Doctor” Sabi Lal was found guilty of assaulting two pharmaceutical representatives (referred to as Ms DE and Ms PQ) who had visited his clinic. He was given a $1000 fine for each assault and convictions were recorded. He was also charged with digitally raping a patient six years earlier (referred to as Ms CD), indecently assaulting her and then attempting to pervert the course of justice. For these charges he was given a two and a half year suspended sentence. Several other assaults or problematic behaviours were reported to the police or the Medical Practitioners Board, including: inappropriate comments of a social, personal and sexual nature during consultations, inappropriate personal contact outside the consultations and misuse of information during the consultations, calling the mother of a child he was treating and asking her on a date and visiting a female patients house uninvited.

In his submissions to the Medical Practioners board a year later Lal claimed that the assaults were “at the very minor end of the spectrum of assault”. His counsel also claimed that there was “no infliction of physical harm by Dr Lal, that there was no evidence of force, that there was no aggression, no threat and no abuse and no physical pain.”

I tend to disagree. Strongly. In the case of the assaults he invited the pharmaceutical reps into his consulting room, interrogated them about their relationships, invited them on dates and then – when they refused – persisted with his questioning. In the case of Ms PQ he grabbed her by her upper arms and waist when she tried to leave the room and then followed her to the car park insisting they go for ‘a drive’. When Ms DE attempted to leave the room he grabbed her by the shoulders and attempted to kiss her. When she again tried to get away from him and leave the room he pulled her hand away from the door handle and leant against the door so she couldn’t leave. She finally managed to pull the door open and escape, where she ran to her car, locked it and sat there sobbing. What person could describe any of the above as lacking in aggression, threat, abuse or force? He restrained the women physically and engaged in sexual conduct of a kind that certainly wasn’t welcome or consented to.

Lal’s counsel also stated that both instances were “one-off” occurences. That doesn’t even make sense. How can a one-off occurence happen multiple times? Do they really expect anyone to believe that because this guy ‘impulsively’ grabs and intimidates women repeatedly we should exercise lenience in morally condemning him?

Well, at least he admitted that in the case of the rape: “it was wrong to perform the Pap smear if the patient were led to believe a female doctor would be doing it and he should not have gone ahead and done the smear.” I’d prefer to have heard that he recognised his actions constituted rape. That he was aware this woman would be traumatised for the rest of her life. That he probably endangered her long term physical health by causing her to not only be terrified of having pap smears in the future but also potentially avoiding them as a result. However, if he took the rap for his charges, engaged with mental health professionals to understand the errors of his ways, undertook volunteer work at an organisation aimed at providing support services for victims of sexual assault and agreed to never, ever practice medicine again I would maybe have some respect for his efforts to rehabilitate himself.

But wait… What is that I hear? Continued injustice lurking in the wings?

Yes! This week the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) ruled that Sabi Lal be reinstated to the medical register and be allowed to resume seeing and treating patients. Despite the fact that even the Medical Practitioners Board still considers him unfit to practice VCAT claims that they have implemented strict conditions on him and that these should, apparently, limit his capacity to reoffend. He is not allowed to treat females or anyone under the age of 16. He will be strictly supervised and monitored. The fact that he has previously been subject to similar conditions and then offended again within a year of them being lifted seems to be of little concern. To quote the VCAT panel:

“We are not persuaded that Mr Lal’s suitability to practise is likely to be affected because of the offences of which he has been found guilty”

Raping and assaulting women who visit his practice doesn’t persuade them they he shouldn’t be allowed to hold a position of power or influence?

Nor are they concerned by the fact that Lal has apparently shown a deep lack of empathy or remorse for his previous actions; nor by the fact that he has regular relapses of obsessive compulsive disorder (the disorder he blamed all the assaults he perpetrated on). They referred to his disorder and the previous assaults as “character flaws”.

This man raped a woman and assaulted two others. Numerous other women have come forward and complained of assault and harassment. How do we react? We charge him $2000. We give him a suspended sentence. We let him continue practicing medicine.

The gross injustice of the legal system in cases of rape and sexual assault will never cease to disgust and astonish me.

9 Responses to “Dr Sabi Lal – The Rapist Doctor is Back and Practicing”

  1. tina_sparkle said

    for fuck’s sake. I take it then that the decision makers at VCAT and the medical practitioners board are all male? they must have been to make such an outrageous decision which continues to place the community at risk, regardless of how many “special restrictions” are placed on him.

    I also take it that the decision makers at VCAT and the MPB wouldn’t mind sending their female family members and friends to dr lal.

  2. Steven said

    Tina – the MPB deemed him unsuitable to practice, it was only VCAT that gave him a green light. I can’t speak on the Vic MPB, but the NSW Medical Board takes the monitoring of the practitioners very seriously, I’d imagine the Vic counterparts do likewise. If you’re concerned about the doctors you are visting, you can contact your states Medical Board and they can tell you of any requirements or restrictions the Dr is subject to. I don’t know if theye ever finished moving it all online.

  3. All this in the same week that a massage therapist and a naturopath were given a 7 and 11 prison sentence for sexual assault. Obviously complementary therapists are much more dangerous and doctors totally forgivable.

  4. janet said

    In some ways the worst part of the whole thing legally is that VCAT have overturned a decision by the Vic MPB. How long has it taken for women to have such complaints taken seriously and dealt with properly by medical authorities? And then when we appear to get a judgement appropriate to the crime another body comes in and interferes and says “Really, it wasn’t that bad was it?”. What message is the Medical Board going to take away from that? Is the next woman with a similar complaint going to be told not to bother, it isn’t worth the effort? Or will they simply not apply the appropriate penalty because they think it will just be overturned?

    • pacelegal said

      VCAT made the decision based on the evidence. I don’t necessarily agree with their decision but I think you have to look seriously at the forensic psychiatric experts who give testimony in these cases. I have been reading the old Medical Practitioners Board Cases for a while now with interest. Unfortunately some are no longer available online. However in a lot of cases the same forensic psychiatrists are acting as apologists for what is recidivist criminal behaviour. If committed by any other member of the community these type of offences would be visited with severe penalties. Professor Bruce Singh was forced by Counsel for the Medical Board to concede that his testimony to the effect that Dr Sabi Lal posed little or no risk to the public was an understatement. Professor Bruce Singh was forced to back down and admit that it was mild to moderate. (not really reflective of the actual degree of risk I believe). Professor Bruce Singh had earlier testified in the criminal case in the County Court for Dr Sabi Lal, whom he described as a “promising Fijian Indian Doctor” (in the MPBV). Professor Bruce Singh formed the opinion and testified in the criminal case that he was so unwell that he couldn’t even form the mental element necessary to have committed the crime. Shortly afterwards Professor Bruce Singh was in the Medical Practitioners Board of Victoria stating that he was fit and proper to practise medicine. There are many other similar cases where forensic experts like Professor Bruce Singh and Professor Graham Burrows have appeared to defend doctors who have committed sexual offences against women. In one case Professor Graham Burrows testified that post traumatic stress disorder was the cause of a Doctor including a lack of understanding of cultural boundaries was part of the medical explanation for the Doctor sexually assaulting women patients. The Doctor had been given another opportunity, just like Dr Sabi Lal, whom Singh represented. The Doctor was appointed a chaperone to make sure he didn’t violate women patients. However the Doctor in question then assaulted the chaperone sexually. Professor Graham Burrows gave testimony to the effect that was condemnatory of the persons who appointed the replacement chaperpone to fulfil the errant doctor’s role when she got sick. The chaperone had been a middle aged woman, but was replaced with a young chaperone which Burrows stated put temptation in the Doctor’s way and was most unfair. You have to wonder about the Doctors who are prepared to advance medical explanations for these Doctors’ conduct, particularly where they continue to violate boundaries and patients’ rights.

  5. Great point, Another Outspoken Female. I hadn’t connected those two things together before reading your comment.

  6. [...] reading fellow Choruster Caitlin’s recent post on rapist and serial violator of women, Dr Sabi Lai, who in a an example of extrodinariy injustice for rape victims’  was reinstated to the [...]

  7. multidimensional scaling spss…

    [...]Dr Sabi Lal – The Rapist Doctor is Back and Practicing « The Dawn Chorus[...]…

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