An Open Letter to Aja Newman

Though fundamental, transformational change of the health care system that failed you may seem insurmountable, we are committed to pursuing it with everything we have.

To Aja Newman:

Healthcare failed you. You came to us at a time when you were hurting, vulnerable, and scared -- and we failed you.

Your attacker was a doctor entrusted to care for you, and worse, a leader who others looked up to. He drugged you so he could sexually assault you. He used his power, his professional status, and the institution’s status in the community. He counted on his privilege. He counted on the fact that you would be silent, or if not silent: unseen and disbelieved. He violated you.

But that was just the beginning of what you endured. You had to be your own advocate, saving evidence while still reeling from the effects of the assault. You relived the experience, retelling it again and again, while in the meantime, many in the medical field stood by his side and supported your attacker. 

There is no justification, no mitigating nor contextualizing factors. There are no words that make this any less than an egregious violation of you. In the halls of medicine, or anywhere, this treatment of you was sickening, dehumanizing. 

Although this happened at one particular institution, so many of us - meaning health care workers and administrators -  as stewards of the healthcare system, must own responsibility. For too long, many of us have tacitly approved of cultural norms that enable the system that allowed what happened to you. Many of us have excused or ignored the biases and injustices deeply imbued in our system and so acutely experienced by Black women, instead of naming and stopping them. In this way, we failed you, even before you came through the doors of that emergency department.

To you, Ms. Newman, and all those who have been assaulted then demeaned, dismissed, cast aside, and silenced while seeking care: there are no words to capture your pain, suffering, and isolation. And there are no words to adequately express the humility we feel before your strength and your courage.

Healthcare can never make it up to you. It cannot erase what happened. It cannot give you back what was taken from you: your safety, your trust in the health care system and health care providers, perhaps forever. It cannot take away what you are burdened with: the traumatizing memories, the shame, guilt, and stigma, and the tremendous work of seeking justice, which is dispensed, if at all, with a mean and invalidating hand.

TIME’S UP Healthcare wants you to know that we have felt every one of your words, deeply. Your story has ALREADY galvanized critical conversations within our community.  All of health care must confront, head-on, the factors that allowed you to be assaulted and permitted disbelief thereafter. We must challenge the systems and structures that failed you over and over again. 

Though fundamental, transformational change of the health care system that failed you may seem insurmountable, we are committed to pursuing it with everything we have. It is our duty to fight to ensure nothing like this happens to another patient we are called to care for ever again. We will raise our voices in hallways, in meetings, in boardrooms, in print and out loud. Inspired by you, we will find our own courage and make it happen, together.

We cannot thank you enough for your unflinching courage. We have to do better, and we promise to try.

Respectfully yours,

TIME’S UP Healthcare