New Jersey is cracking down on sexual misconduct by professionals licensed by the 51 boards and committees operating under the supervision of the Attorney General’s Division of Consumer Affairs.
Attorney General Gurbir Grewal issued the directive April 6, and it will affect approximately 700,000 licensees.
Grewal called on the Division to work with the 51 boards and committees to adopt new policies, and improve existing processes, to help prevent sexual misconduct from occurring, promote accountability among licensees, and ensure that victims who come forward to report incidents of sexual misconduct receive the support they deserve.
“Sexual misconduct is completely unacceptable in any workplace, but it is especially reprehensible when it happens behind the closed doors of doctors’ offices, massage therapy rooms, and other places where licensed professionals exploit the vulnerability of patients and clients who trust them,” said Gov. Phil Murphy in a prepared statement.
The boards and committees addressed in the directive oversee hundreds of thousands of active licensees, including accountants, doctors, plumbers and massage therapists.
“As more victims of sexual assault and harassment have found the courage in recent years to report their offenders and share their stories, we have learned more about the pervasiveness of sexual misconduct by professional licensees, and we are taking action to combat it,” Grewal said.
The Division and its professional boards have addressed licensee sexual misconduct numerous times through individual enforcement actions and rulemaking. In November 2019, the Board of Massage and Bodywork Therapy adopted new rules to prevent and respond to sexual misconduct in the massage therapy industry; and in November 2020, the Division instituted a new protocol for boards’ consideration of license reinstatement requests from individuals whose authority to practice was previously discontinued, according to an OAG announcement.
The new directive was birthed out of a comprehensive review initially announced in February 2020 to identify improvements in how professional boards and committees address sexual misconduct. The review is ongoing.
Administrative Executive Directive No. 2021-3 calls on the Division to work with the professional boards and committees to initiate specific changes and adopt best practices to address the problem of sexual misconduct through prevention, accountability, and victim support.
Screening of applicants needs improvement, and to allow that the Division will work with boards to refine the questions applicants are asked to more clearly and specifically require disclosure of sexual misconduct allegations or discipline. Training will be provided before licensure on topics such as bystander intervention, and the Division will reach out to educational facilities to support developing further training.
As more victims of sexual assault and harassment have found the courage in recent years to report their offenders and share their stories, we have learned more about the pervasiveness of sexual misconduct by professional licensees, and we are taking action to combat it.
– Attorney General Gurbir Grewal
Licensees will be encouraged to report misconduct by other licensees, encouraged by new trainings put out by the Division. Victims will also be encouraged to report sexual misconduct by making it easier for them to report, educating them on the disciplinary process, and by creating new victim-board liaison positions.
“Protecting the safety and welfare of the public is the primary duty of all boards and we welcome the opportunity to work with the Division to implement changes to better accomplish that mission,” said Dr. Scott Metzger, president of the State Board of Medical Examiners, in a prepared statement. “Ensuring that our licensees uphold the rigorous standards of the medical profession – including those prohibiting sexual misconduct in all forms – also protects the integrity of the vast majority of physicians, who would never dream of violating the sacred trust patients place in them.”
The new directive was issued after the State Board of Chiropractic Examiners voted in February to reinstate the license of Bryan Bajakian, who in 2008 lost his license to practice based on accusations of sexual misconduct against 10 underage patients. He reportedly also had an extensive collection of child pornography.
In 2008, the state’s Administrative Complaint said Bajakian is an “exploitative sexual predator” with “monumentally poor judgment” whose continued practice represented an imminent threat to public safety.
Grewal sought to block Bajakian’s reinstatement, but his license was reinstated in February.