The Medical Board of California, Section 2230.5 and Dr. Martin E. Widzer
Last month, I wrote an OpEd about California's Section 2230.5 of the Business and Professions Code which prevents the Medical Board of California from investigating complaints older than seven years. In light of the arrest of prominent child psychiatrist Dr. William Ayres for allegedly sexually molesting many of his patients, I felt it was important for California to take another look at its self-imposed statute of limitations on investigations. There is no way to know if victims in this case might have come forward earlier if they'd known the Medical Board would actually investigate their claims.
This issue is personal for me because I was treated by a child psychiatrist, Dr. Martin E. Widzer, in California from 1981 to 1983 who I believe was negligent in treating me and for not reporting to authorities the physical abuse that I suffered growing up as a child. Additionally, as his own notes indicate, he may be guilty of physical assaulting me on one occasion when I was twelve years old. While I reported this information to the Medical Board of California in 1998, they closed the case in the middle of the investigation when the California Legislature passed Section 2230.5, which prevented the Medical Board from investigating cases older than seven years.
It concerns me that Dr. Widzer continued his practice with children over the past ten years. I invite clients that may share similar concerns about his conduct to contact me. Perhaps some good can come from this.
Although my OpEd was not published, you can read it in its entirety below:
The recent arrest of prominent child psychiatrist Dr. William Ayres ("Child psychiatrist arrested in molestation cases", Los Angeles Times April 6, 2007) for allegedly molesting many of his former patients should prompt the California Legislature to reform its laws regarding the statute of limitations for offenses committed against minors.
While the Supreme Court limited the statute of limitations for criminal prosecutions of such cases in 2002 (Stogner v. California), the California Legislature determines the statute of limitations for the Medical Board of California to investigate complaints as well as the timeline for victims to pursue civil lawsuits.
I grew up in a physically abusive home in Los Angeles. While many people shared in the neglect that kept me in this environment, a child psychiatrist I saw between 1981 and 1983 failed to report the abuse to authorities or to treat me for my injuries.
I'd always been aware of my psychiatrist's neglect yet it took me fifteen years to realize that his actions may have been illegal and the impact on my quality of life preventable. In 1998, I filed a complaint against him with the Medical Board of California.
Shortly after I received a copy of his case notes in which he incredulously described assaulting me by grabbing me by the hair in the back of my head after I'd thrown pillows on his floor. I was twelve years old. Yet, the Medical Board closed my complaint when the Legislature passed Section 2230.5 of the Business and Professions Code preventing them from investigating claims older than 7 years.
In reviewing my options with an attorney, I learned that the statute of limitations for civil damages had expired as well.
The psychiatrist has continued his practice with children for the past decade. There is no way to know how much damage he may have done to other children's lives.
In the case of more serious sexual abuse, adult abusers of children often threaten victims not to disclose their crimes. In the Ayres' case, the abuse may have been cloaked by his authority as a medical professional appointed by those the child trusted. The damage from sexual abuse and the social stigmas of carrying these secrets may stunt a child's normal emotional development and delay the period in which they develop the capacity to report the perpetrator to authorities.
In my case, I gradually matured and became a successful technology professional at Microsoft Corporation. My employee health benefits provided me an opportunity to attend counseling. Yet, it wasn't until age 28 that I understood the malfeasance of my childhood psychiatrist and realized the importance of reporting him to protect other children. I can only imagine that victims of more serious abuse, such as those in the Ayres' case, need even more time.
In the Ayres' case, the Los Angeles Times reported "prosecutors think there were 'many additional victims' whose cases were too old to fall within the statutes of limitations". Perhaps if there were more avenues open to California's children, this case and others would come to light more quickly, preventing needless suffering. The Ayres case demonstrates that additional victims often find the courage to come forward once initial complaints become public.
There is no statute limiting the number of years abusers can harm children in secret, nor from preventing incompetent physicians from practicing. Therefore, the Legislature should not impose limitations on the time with which the medical board has to investigate complaints. Nor should it limit the opportunities for victims to obtain civil damages from professionals who instead of helping them heal, further deepen their wounds.
The complexities of sexual abuse and the minds and memories of childhood victims who may not recover for decades require more flexibility from lawmakers.
The well-being and safety of California's children is at stake.