According to a recent lawsuit, Stuart Copperman seemed like a competent, caring pediatrician. He was charming and affectionate, the plaintiffs say, and always available in an emergency.
In many cases, he told parents to leave their daughters alone with him so they could speak freely about any health concerns. Most parents happily agreed even though their daughters were quite young, thinking this was sound medical practice.
It was not, the lawsuit alleges. Once he had the girls alone, he would rub their genitals and finger their vaginas.
According to the New York Times, for decades, there was a steady stream of sexual abuse complaints against Copperman at the Office of Professional Medical Conduct. For whatever reason, the agency failed to act. It only stripped Copperman of his medical license in 2000, when he was 65 and already ready to retire. He never faced any criminal charges.
In the past, if victims wanted to sue their abusers in civil court, they would have needed to file suit before their 23rd birthday. That was problematic because many victims are so traumatized by the abuse. Even if they don’t suppress the memory of it, they often aren’t psychologically ready to confront their accusers. The more traumatizing the abuse, the less likely the victim would be able to hold the abuser to account.
New York’s Child Victims Act changed things. Now, victims of sexual abuse can file lawsuits against their abusers as long as they file before age 55. In addition, the new law allows people who were previously blocked by the statute of limitations to file suit as long as they do so within a year of August 14, 2019.
Pediatricians and other doctors are in a position to abuse
The news has been full of stories recently about pediatricians who used their position of trust to deceive and molest children. Former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar was recently sentenced to 175 years in prison for molesting gymnasts. One Pennsylvania pediatrician was sentenced to 158 years in prison earlier this year. A Delaware pediatrician was sentenced in 2011 to 14 life sentences for sexual abuse.
Unfortunately, many sexual abusers are never charged criminally. Without prosecution or proper oversight by medical boards, they are left free and undeterred even after complaints are made.
For New Yorkers, the Child Victims Act offers a chance to hold sexual abusers accountable through the civil courts.
Copperman’s victims told the Times that they feel the institutions meant to protect them failed repeatedly – and they’re right. This lawsuit should give the victims the opportunity to confront their abuser, share how he harmed them, and collect money damages that could send a powerful message to others.