Flemish gynaecologist faces 5-year prison sentence for sexually abusing patients

Flemish gynaecologist faces 5-year prison sentence for sexually abusing patients
A protest of 'Rise against Rape'. Credit: BELGA PHOTO NICOLAS MAETERLINCK

Gynaecologist Ben V.R. (58) from Turnhout, in the province of Antwerp, denied Wednesday that he had sexually abused eight patients at the correctional court in Turnhout. However, the doctor risks an effective five-year prison sentence.

In October 2018, the dismissal of gynaecologist Ben V.R. at AZ Turnhout came as a shock. The hospital management had sacked the doctor after two women had independently complained and filed for sexual abuse, especially in the period between 2014 and 2015. After the outcry appeared in the press, six more women filed complaints against the doctor.

After his discharge from the hospital, V.R. started a private practice in Turnhout. The 50-year-old appeared yesterday before the correctional court in Turnhout for the indecent assault and rape of eight former patients.

Not normal medical acts

Some of the women who had filed complaints yesterday, sat face to face again with the man who they said had severely betrayed their trust. One of the women went to consult Ben V.R. at the AZ in Turnhout in early 2013 after experiencing pain from an IUD. The woman stated that the doctor first asked her all kinds of intimate questions about her sex life with her partner. "

Then I had to get on my hands and knees on the table after which the gynaecologist entered my vagina with two fingers and asked if it hurt," the woman. "After about twenty minutes, he stopped."

According to her lawyer Jean-Luc Schuermans, the doctor performed several acts that were not medically necessary. "The doctor claimed that my client had given consent for this. The gynaecological examination was a pretext to indulge his own sexual appetites. For that she did not give her consent," Schuermans said.

Three more women, in turn, claimed that they were abused in a similar manner, on their hands and knees while V.R. touched and groped them intimately. "Those are not normal medical acts," outlined master Barbara De Backer in her plea for one of the victims.

Allegations in the past

According to the prosecution, sexual assault and rape did occur. Public Prosecutor Hanne Hendrickx yesterday asked that Ben V.R. be imposed an effective five-year prison sentence and also deprive him of his rights for five years.

"In one year, two similar complaints have been filed against the man. There was also an incident in 1994 when he was still employed at UZ Gasthuisberg in Leuven. But he denied everything then and claimed that the woman was mentally unstable," explained Hanne Hendrickx explained. "Six other victims reported later after the first two complaints."

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The gynaecologist himself attended the hour-long court hearing yesterday and insisted that he had done nothing wrong at all.

His lawyer, Master Walter Damen, decisively went for the acquittal. "The man is 58 years old and in his career already seen over 13,500 patients. Now he is facing eight women who portray him as a monster for facts that allegedly happened in 2014," Damen said.

"Meanwhile, he has a private practice where many patients come over anyway who have never had any problems with him." According to the lawyer, the reasonable time limit had also been exceeded. He also questioned the way the investigation was conducted. Additional expert investigation is appropriate, according to counsel.

The court will deliver a verdict on October 12.

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