London Free Press
Disgraced doctor, Western sued by former student
By Jane Sims, The London Free Press
February 1, 2016
The woman, 49, known as Jane Doe, was at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, the governing body for Ontario doctors, in November to hear the details of the sexual violence inflicted by the disgraced ex-doctor on more than 40 of his patients, many still unidentified, all of them women, who had gone to him for help at his private practice on Victoria Street.
Dobrowolski, 68, wasn’t at the Toronto hearing to witness the end of his medical career. He’s in a federal prison serving a four-year sentence for his sex crimes,
“I found myself with tears rolling down my face because I felt responsible,” Jane Doe said after launching a $2.85-million lawsuit against Dobrowolski and Western University where she said was abused by the doctor.
Jane Doe is the earliest of Dobrowolski’s patients to step forward. She said in her statement of claim that Dobrowolski began abusing her in 1986 and 1987, mere months into his tenure as a psychiatrist at Western’s student health services that started in September 1985. She is the earliest known patient to sue him.
“I felt a burden that I owed them because I felt if I had done something at the time that it could have prevented a parade of women being victimized.”
It’s not the first time Dobrowolski’s sexual violence was brought to the college. And Jane Doe’s lawsuit isn’t the first to sue the bad doctor and the university.
Though Dobrowolski carried on for decades, Jane Doe wants the university to be held responsible, calling it in the statement of claim “vicariously liable for the conduct of Dr. Dobrowolski.”
“That’s why I’m here,” she said.
The university knew or ought to have known that “Dobrowolski was a person with aberrant sexual tendencies who engaged in illegal and immoral sexual activities with students who were in UWO’s care,” the lawsuit said.
“It failed to recognize or inadequately recognized the risk that Dr. Dobrowolski posed to all students including Jane.”
The university failed to take steps to remove Dobrowolski, the statement of claim says.
If the students who complained about Dobrowolski had been believed, “then the unfolding of this tragedy was highly, highly preventable,” Jane Dow said.
The lawsuit was filed late week.
“We have only just received the claim and will have no response to it until we have had an opportunity to review it in detail,” Western University spokesperson Keith Marnoch said.
Dobrowolski has been Western’s lingering headache since complaints began to surface about his conduct almost 30 years ago while the university continued to stand by him. The university has insisted in the past that it took any complaints seriously. Women who came forward were labelled as “hysterical.”
“Their headache has created a ridiculous amount of pain and trauma for how many women?” said Simona Jellinek, one of Jane Doe’s civil lawyers.
The civil action is the latest to take aim at institutions that throw their support behind predators in positions of trust and casting aside allegations without proper investigation, going to the police or taking any legal action.
Too often, Jane Doe said, accusations of sexual impropriety by women are often questioned. She pointed to the recent scandal surrounding comedian Bill Cosby as a high-profile example of where women were not believed.
The statement of claim says Western failed Jane Doe by “covering up the abuse, thereby protecting the reputation of UWO at the expense of justice and of Jane’s rights and well-being.”
Though the criminal courts eventually dealt with the ex-doctor directly in 2014, one of Jane Doe’s civil lawyers knows first-hand that convictions “can only accomplish so much” to protect people.
“It’s a systemic problem,” said Karen Bellehumeur, a former London assistant Crown attorney, now working with Jellinek whose area of expertise in the criminal courts was sexual abuse law.
“If you hold institutions responsible who have the responsibility for vast numbers of individuals, maybe more progress can be made. It’s a good place to start.”
Thirty years ago, Jane Doe was just another young Western University student referred to Dobrowolski at Student Health Services when she was “really struggling.”
Jane Doe said she went gone to Student Health Services in 1986 when it was clear “I had a range of serious issues” that needed to be addressed.
Her mother, who’d raised Jane Doe on her own, died when Jane Doe was 16. “I found myself largely alone in the world,” she said, and needed the help of a professional.
She was treated monthly by Dobrowolski, who conducted “unnecessary and inappropriate vaginal and breast examinations,” the lawsuit said.
Jane Doe saw Dobrowolski for two years before she graduated with her four-year degree.
She praises the women who came forward with complaints about Dobrowolski, calling them heroes.
“They made a herculean effort to stop this behaviour and they weren’t successful,” she said.
“Here we are nearly 30 years later, proof positive that they’ve been vindicated, but what a cost.
“We have nearly 30 years of abused women. From my vantage, Dobrowolski’s medical licence was his limitless pass to female patients to violate them.”
Michelle (Varey) Stanford, a student at Western who was treated by Dobrowolski in the late 1980s, filed a complaint with the College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1989.
He resigned from the university in 1994 after he was cleared in 1991 by the college of any wrongdoing with Stanford and before the college decided on a complaint from a former patient who had an affair with him.
He went into private practice. In all, he made three trips to the college for similar complaints of sexual misconduct, but his licence was never ended.
Jane Doe said she was aware of the decades of complaints while she grappled with depression, anxiety panic attacks, flashbacks, lack of trust and a host of other distresses she said in her statement of claim were rooted in the doctor’s abuse of her.
The criminal convictions, the recent hearing at the college and a documentary by CBC’s The Fifth Estate that included the Dobrowolski story helped push her to act.
And she says he could have been stopped decades ago.
“It’s the obligation of the university to protect the safety and well-being of students,” she said.