Last month, I wrote about a really horrifying case of a Chicago gynecologist who has allegedly raped or otherwise sexually assaulted or harassed multiple patients over the course of 9 years. A part of the horror is that over those 9 years, police were aware of his alleged sexual violence, yet took no action.
There has recently been news in this case, and it’s thankfully good news: Dr. Bruce Smith has finally been charged with sexual assault.
A longtime gynecologist in the Chicago area was charged Thursday with sexual assault of a patient less than one month after a Tribune report found that the Cook County prosecutor did not act on multiple allegations of rape against him.
Sally Daly, a spokeswoman for the state’s attorney’s office, said Bruce Sylvester Smith was charged with sexually assaulting a pregnant patient during a 2002 pelvic exam — one of three alleged rapes reviewed by the Tribune.
Daly could not explain why her office did not prosecute Smith at the time, but she said it worked hard to secure charges against him in recent weeks.
“Our investigators have been looking into these cases since they were brought to our attention by the Tribune,” Daly said.
Smith turned himself in to police Thursday and was to remain in custody until a bond hearing Friday, at which time prosecutors will reveal further details of the case, Daly said. If convicted of the felony charge, Smith could face between four and 15 years in prison.
To be entirely clear, there is absolutely no way in hell that police and prosecutors are off the hook here. In fact, they messed up big time, allowing Smith to continue practicing and allegedly assaulting patients for 8 years when a simple DNA test could have given them the information they needed to press charges:
A Chicago prosecutor says that for nearly eight years, police did not utilize DNA evidence in the case against a Chicago-area gynecologist who continued to practice in spite of multiple rape allegations.
At a bond hearing Friday for Dr. Bruce Smith, Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney Annette Milleville said a rape exam of one alleged victim in 2002 turned up semen, but police didn’t request a DNA sample from Smith.
Milleville says investigators finally secured a DNA sample from Smith this month and the state crime lab determined that Smith’s DNA profile matched the semen.
There is no excuse for this. None. And whoever is responsible for failing to protect the public from a dangerous person in a position of power and extreme access to vulnerable women. Whoever those people responsible are really shouldn’t have jobs, anymore. They were grossly and dangerously negligent. And more alleged victims have suffered because of it.
But while there is no legitimate reason whatsoever for the unconscionable delay in properly investigating the allegations and pressing charges, the fact that charges have been pressed rather belatedly remains quite the relief. After all, Dr. Smith’s license was currently suspended, and he would have been eligible to reapply this summer. One can only hope that with violent criminal charges against him, he will not be able to reapply until they are resolved — and that if a conviction is obtained, his license will be permanently revoked.
This case is also a reminder of how journalists can act as an absolutely vital safeguard against government misconduct. When they’re not just regurgitating PR soundbites and misinformation back at us, news media has the power to expose impropriety and enforce accountability. The Chicago Tribune most certainly deserves praise for their work here, and I hope that they commit to doing more like it in the future. In a world where most authorities would rather turn the other way than take sexual violence seriously, we frankly depend on it.