Psychotherapist sex criminalization bill refused

A Louisiana House committee refused Tuesday to advance legislation criminalizing sexual contact between psychotherapists and patients.

State Rep. Dalton Honoré angered a woman by questioning whether legislation next would be filed to forbid a telephone repairman from dating a client.

“Today we’re talking about the psychotherapists. Tomorrow we’re going to be talking about the telephone repairman who comes to your house,” said Honoré, D-Baton Rouge.

Nicole Dion, of Thibodaux, characterized the comparison as disgusting. “That’s not the same kind of relationship,” she said.

However, other members of the Louisiana House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice also had problems with House Bill 226.

HB226 sought to prohibit psychotherapists from engaging in sexual contact with clients or patients. Violating the prohibition would be punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Dion told the committee she was 33 when she sought counseling because of a failing marriage and panic attacks. She saw a psychiatrist’s ad in a Houma newspaper and called for an appointment. She said the psychiatrist, whom she did not name, manipulated her into a sexual relationship, prescribed her mind-altering medication and helped her file for disability so she would be available to him.

Ten years later, Dion has an online petition trying to drum up support for HB226.

A Baton Rouge friend, Stephanie Davis, read Dion’s written testimony for legislators Tuesday morning while an emotional Dion sat next to her.

In the testimony, Dion wrote that she struggles daily with the “horrendous abuses” she suffered by a health professional. She wrote that she trusted the man with intimate details about her life and marriage.

“Twenty-five other states already have a law. It didn’t just pop into the books all by itself. It was put there by citizens and legislators who saw the need,” Davis read.

Dion gave legislators an email from Baton Rouge lawyer Ed Walters about the number of therapy abuse cases his firm handled in the last 10 years. Walters listed 10 therapist cases, two psychiatrist cases, one attorney case, five doctor cases, five priest cases, two Boy Scout leader cases and one driving instructor case.

State Rep. Barbara Norton, D-Shreveport, asked if Dion hired an attorney to pursue her own claims.

Dion said she did and won in mediation.

“If you won with the attorney, why is it necessary that we as legislators pretty much get involved?” Norton asked.

Dion said she wanted the psychiatrist’s license, not just his money.

State Rep. Chris Hazel, R-Pineville, told Dion that he is sympathetic to the abuse she described. “It’s certainly unethical, but it’s not criminal,” he said.

Hazel, an attorney and former prosecutor, moved to involuntarily defer the bill, which would effectively kill the proposal.

State Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, suggested that licensing boards need to punish violators. She said that would be a better solution than jumping from A to Z by getting the Legislature involved.

Dion countered that 25 states criminalize the behavior. “Not all physicians are this way. Not all therapists are this way. But the ones that are need to be punished,” she said.

Dion’s friend interjected that criminalizing the sexual conduct would empower women to come forward when they become victims. Without the law on the books, women might feel responsible, Davis said.

“To sit here and watch all of you look puzzled is puzzling to me,” Davis said.

Honoré then offered his comparison involving the telephone repairman. “Both of you are consenting adults. He’s had a background check to work for the phone company,” he said.

Dion said the relationships are completely different. “The fact that you would (compare) this to the telephone repairman is just disgusting to me,” she said.

The committee voted without objection to involuntarily defer the bill.