McAllister Olivarius represents survivors of sexual discrimination, harassment and assault. Here, our Senior Partner Dr. Ann Olivarius describes her own experience of being strangled and raped by Calvin Hirsch, today a doctor practicing geriatric medicine at the University of California – Davis. This experience has been a powerful one in her own life. She describes it here to shine a light on what sadly remains a common occurrence for many women (and men), and because she believes that telling her story, including naming the perpetrator – a step she is taking after long deliberation – can help deter other sexual assaults.
“With this page, I seek to raise awareness about Hirsch’s behavior and the Medical Board of California’s lack of care for the vulnerable people it should be protecting.”
Trigger warning: Sexual violence
In 1974, when I was an undergraduate at Yale, I was strangled and raped by a fellow student named Calvin Hirsch.
I reported Hirsch’s behavior to the Yale Police the morning it happened and soon thereafter to several others, including Yale administrators. Despite this, nothing was done.
In the years after Hirsch’s rape, I became a feminist attorney, while he became a geriatrician. Through my work, I learned that many rapists are repeat offenders, and also that many sexual predators choose careers that grant them access to a steady pool of vulnerable victims. I became concerned that my own silence might have or could enable Hirsch to abuse others.
Because of this, I wrote Hirsch in December 2014, seeking to understand what had motivated him to rape and strangle, and hoping for an apology. Hirsch responded with fury, denying the rape entirely (though admitting the sex) and abusing his medical knowledge and authority to threaten and gaslight me. He told me that I must have a “mental illness” such as “fronto-temporal dementia” – diagnosing me without having seen me, without me being his patient, without my consent and despite the obvious conflict of interest involved.
Doctors are not supposed to do this. In 2020, seeking to protect Hirsch’s vulnerable patients from potential abuse, I reported to the Medical Board of California that Hirsch had used his status as a physician to gaslight and diagnose me without a proper examination. The Board refused to investigate. My experience with the Board is unfortunately not unique – the Los Angeles Times has described it as a “cartel” that prioritizes allowing bad doctors to keep practicing over protecting patients and others from abuse.
As the #MeToo movement has shown, there is power in women simply telling their stories, discarding the shame and fear that have kept us silent and subordinate. I now feel it is important to name what happened to me after decades of staying silent. I want to join the many brave women and men I have represented over the years by stating publicly that Dr. Calvin Hirsch, now working at UC Davis, strangled and raped me. I don’t worry anymore that my brutal, violent rape will be used by legal opponents to question my motives or discredit my clients. I gave Dr. Hirsch multiple opportunities to acknowledge what he did and to demonstrate he is no longer a risk to others. Instead he has shown himself to be stubbornly recalcitrant, a textbook case of arrogance.
The Board’s own website states that it seeks to promote “quality medical care.” That Hirsch used his medical authority to diagnose me, a non-patient and virtual stranger, as mentally deficient is fundamentally at odds with good medical care that the Board is supposed to protect. The American Psychiatric Association has made a public statement against remote diagnosis like Hirsch’s, deeming the practice “armchair psychiatry.” The Association states: “The standards in our profession require review of medical and psychiatric history and records and a complete examination of mental status [to evaluate mental illness]. Often collateral information from family members or individuals who know the person well is included, with permission from the patient.” Hirsch, of course, had access to none of this information when he diagnosed me over email in 2014, without any request by me that he do so.
Because the Board has disciplined and removed medical licenses from other doctors who have behaved similarly to Hirsch, I thought it was right to attempt to invoke its powers to bring action against someone who remains unapologetic and a potential threat to others. Unfortunately the Board has done nothing to help me or to protect Hirsch’s vulnerable patients from harm. Its multiple responses to me have been surprisingly, and strikingly, incompetent. Given the Board’s shoddy response to my complaint, I have no reason to believe that it has not treated other complaints similarly. My experience suggests the possibility of broader performance failures by an organization whose mission is to “protect health care consumers.”
I remain concerned about Hirsch’s ability to abuse his license to harm his patients and other vulnerable people to whom he may have access. I hope that this webpage will raise awareness about his bad acts, and the Medical Board of California’s poor performance.
I grew up in New Jersey, the oldest of five daughters in a Catholic family that often struggled to make ends meet. From a young age, I witnessed violence against women. My own father hit my mother in front of me and my sisters, even when he drew blood, even when she was pregnant. One day, I found the courage to stand up to him, threatening to report him to the police should he ever beat my mother again. After a visit by the police when I called them to another domestic abuse episode, the violence stopped. This was a formative experience – I realized that I was not powerless, and that I could invoke the law to protect others from abuse.
I realised I was not powerless, and that I could invoke the law to protect others from abuse.
My life changed at the age of 17 when I won an American Field Service (AFS) scholarship that allowed me to study in Peru during the summer of 1972. I saw the poverty and violence that Peruvian women suffered when they “broke the rules” – by seeking sexual freedom, abortion or divorce – in an overwhelmingly Catholic country. The women were shamed for living their lives and making their own choices. I began to see how powerful a tool shame was in subordinating women. The following year I enrolled at Yale, joining one of the first classes at Yale College accepting women.
My early years at Yale
I was very keen to go to Yale. It was an exciting time, exposing me to all sorts of new possibilities. One was the study of feminism, and activism to accompany it. Yale had been male for 275 years. Every building was named after a white man, every portrait on every wall depicted one; senior societies and even the private club where a lot of university business was done, Mory’s, excluded women; even after coeducation, Yale’s President Kingman Brewster said that its goal remained to educate “1,000 male leaders” each year.
My classmates were buzzing with ideas for fixing the gender inequities all around them. So was I. I wanted a shot at life. I wanted all women to have a shot at life.
During my time at the university, I worked with others to write the first “Report on the Status of Women” at Yale. In compiling the report, I came across a surprising number of women who had been pressured for sex by professors, deans or close male friends.
Yale had been male for 275 years. Every building was named after a white man, every portrait on every wall depicted one
Rape at Yale and initial report
Unfortunately, the horror stories I recorded in putting together the report had also been my reality in 1974, when I was strangled and raped by Calvin Hirsch, a fellow student. Before the assault, I had regularly hung out with him in group settings, including with my then boyfriend. I considered Hirsch a friend, and thus was sympathetic when he told me that he was depressed and struggling with his family situation and asked me to support him by seeing a movie together. Because he knew I was in a relationship, because I felt sad that his life was so difficult, and because I also knew what family burdens meant, I agreed to go with him to the film.
Afterwards, Hirsch returned to my suite at Yale’s Branford College, where I lived with two other women. Being polite, I asked him if he would like a cup of tea before he left. He declined this offer but asked to stay the night. With tears in his eyes, he repeated the struggles he was having with his parents, and explained that he did not feel he could be alone. He pleaded, saying that we were friends, promising that he had no sexual intentions, he was lonely, and just wanted to be in my presence. I agreed to house Hirsch for the night, hoping that I could support my friend through a hard personal time. When he and I went to bed, I was abundantly clothed. I said goodnight to him, and the two of us did not touch or kiss. There had been no alcohol, drugs, kissing or any suggestion of intimacy.
Hours later, I woke up with the early light streaming into the room. Hirsch was on top of me, holding me down forcefully and drooling onto my face. I vividly remember his violence. He was like a dead weight choking me with one hand while his other furiously pulled off my underclothes. I could barely get air into my lungs; as I fought back, he said nothing and then slapped me, causing my lip to bleed. I was shocked; I felt completely disoriented and fearful; my head throbbed, and confusion surrounded me as he thrust hard into me. Pain seared my insides. He came quickly. My nose and lip bled.
Afterward, Hirsch rolled over and went back to sleep, without a word. I lay next to him crying quietly, shaking, not knowing what to do. Eventually, he opened his eyes. Saying virtually nothing, he put on his clothes and left, saying he was heading for breakfast. He left his semen and my blood on my sheets.
After Hirsch left, I called the Yale Police and reported that I had been strangled and raped. The police refused to investigate the incident or call it rape, believing that my formerly friendly relationship with Hirsch meant that what happened between us must have been consensual. According to the police, “Yale men” didn’t rape and strangle. I also reported the crime to several Yale officials, but they did nothing to help me or to discipline Hirsch. Apparently, what he did was a free crime.
I was in turmoil. I saw him several more times and had sex with him, hoping to transform an experience I had found loathsome into something “normal,” perhaps even a courtship, to make him a lover instead of a rapist. It was joyless and miserable; it was awful. I cut off ties with him. In my work as an attorney I have come to learn this is a common response to rape.
According to the police, “Yale men” didn’t rape and strangle. I also reported Hirsch’s crime to several Yale officials, but they did nothing to help me.
Hirsch’s and my careers
In 1977, I graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Yale. Following this, I won a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford University, where I earned a doctorate in Economics. After returning to the US, I enrolled in Yale Law School and the Yale School of Management, graduating from both with highest honors in 1986. After my schooling, much of my professional life has been devoted to fighting gender inequality.
Hirsch graduated from Yale in 1976, one year before me. He went on to receive his M.D. from the University of Connecticut. He is currently a Professor of Clinical Internal Medicine at University of California – Davis, where he specializes in geriatric medicine.
In his current role, Hirsch works almost exclusively with vulnerable populations, specifically focusing on Alzheimer’s disease and the clinical implications of aging. In addition to his clinical work, he also helps train UC Davis medical students, trainees and staff.
Hirsch misdiagnoses and gaslights me to discredit my allegations against him
In 2014, I decided to contact Hirsch privately. The only email address I had for him was his professional email at UC Davis, so I wrote him there and requested a personal address. He gave it to me, seemingly eager to reignite an old relationship. I then wrote to him, setting out my memory of the rape and detailing the pain I still carried with me.
I hoped that he would respond by apologizing. I wanted him to say that he regretted what he had done, or that he understood that his actions had been selfish and not consensual, and that he recognized the profound wrongness of it now. I wanted him to say that he had learned and changed. Then, perhaps, I could come to peace and move on myself, and also be reassured that he posed no danger to other women or his patients.
His response was defiant. He recalled there was sex, but said it was consensual. He tried to minimize it and gaslight me by saying he found me unattractive because I was so hairy (I am of Scandinavian extraction and my friends rib me about how little body hair I have). More importantly, he gaslit me with his medical license, seeking to question my memory, credibility and, indeed, sanity. He said my 40-year clear memory of rape was “manifesting the forme fruste of a neurodegenerative disorder, such as fronto-temporal dementia.”
I reach out to Hirsch again; no response
In 2017, I wrote to Hirsch again, enclosing a link to Thordis Elva’s “Can I Forgive the Man Who Raped Me?” I explained that, like her, until I could find a way to forgive my rapist, I would continue to live with great pain. I still hoped he could acknowledge what he had done, some 40 years later, so I could resolve it. He did not reply. The lack of response indicated to me that he still felt untouchable, defiant and self-righteous.
I file a complaint with the Medical Board of California
I had been deeply offended that Hirsch’s response to my contacting him had been to diagnose me with “the forme fruste of a neurodegenerative disorder, such as fronto-temporal dementia.” I looked at the law governing how doctors should behave, and it turns out that they are not supposed to diagnose people (1) who are not their patients (2) without examining them. I decided to file a complaint with the Medical Board of California, which oversees his license.
The applicable statute of limitations is seven years; my complaint, based on the 2014 diagnosis, was well within time. I knew, of course, that the strangulation and rape themselves had happened long ago and before Hirsch was licensed as a doctor, so I made no legal claim about them.
I argued that Hirsch’s behavior in 2014 was both “unprofessional conduct” in falsely diagnosing someone who is not his patient to protect and advance his own interests, and “dishonesty” under the laws the Board administers. It detailed the many times the Board has disciplined physicians who have been sexually abusive and/or used their medical licenses to gaslight and diagnose women without a proper examination.
Recent examples include:
- In December 2017, the Board put Dr. Robert T. Perez on probation for 35 months and required him to complete an education course, a prescribing practices course, an ethics course, a professional boundaries program, and a psychiatric evaluation after he sexually harassed his patient and then attempted to diagnose her with paranoid schizophrenia to discredit her when she complained about him. The Board stated that if Dr. Perez violated his probation, his license would be revoked.
- In May 2018, the Board forced Dr. Leon Fajerman to surrender his license after he sexually assaulted his patient and, when she tried to confront him about his abuse, used his expertise to manipulate and gaslight her.
- In September 2019, the Board forced Dr. George Tyndall to surrender his license after he sexually assaulted his patient and diagnosed her without a proper examination.
As exhibits, I provided the Board with the emails I exchanged with Hirsch back in 2014, in addition to affidavits from three people whom I told about the rape and strangulation shortly after it happened, my CV and a personal statement titled “The Power of Naming”, which details specifics of the rape and strangulation and their after effects.
UC Davis refuses to investigate Hirsch
After I filed my complaint with the Board, I sent it to UC Davis administrators and several of Hirsch’s colleagues, hoping that they would take action to protect Hirsch’s vulnerable patients. UC Davis stated that it was unable to investigate the allegations in my complaint because I was never his patient.
The Board misreads and dismisses the complaint
On January 14, 2021, the Board wrote me that “given the age of the incident cited in [my] complaint, the Board is unable to pursue further action and the complaint has been closed.” The Board appeared to have misread the complaint as referring to the original strangulation and rape in 1974 rather than the unscrupulous diagnosis in 2014.
I replied on February 2, 2021 pointing this out. I wrote:
Dr. Hirsch’s sanctionable behavior – his dishonest acts and unprofessional conduct – occurred in December 2014. I filed my complaint in December 2020, six years after that incident. As your notice dated January 14 to me states, there is a seven-year window for filing complaints. My window closes in December 2021. I think you must be wrongly using the date of the rape in 1974 for your analysis, rather than the 2014 date of the behavior I am complaining about concerning Dr. Hirsch’s conduct as a physician.
The Board misreads my complaint a second time
The Board responded on April 22, 2021, again misconstruing my complaint, this time to assert that I had made “sexual misconduct allegations against multiple physicians with patients.” This was a wild and strange invention; I wondered if the words had been cut and pasted by mistake from another case. Additionally, the Board suggested that I might have been Hirsch’s patient. This too was remarkable, since the complaint was based on the fact that I was never Hirsch’s patient. Was this incompetence or part of a strategy to wear me down? It certainly didn’t reflect the care that an official body should take.
On May 17, 2021, I responded to the Board’s weird errors, clarifying that Hirsch was the only doctor I was complaining about, and pointing out that the Board appeared to be responding to a complaint I had not sent. I reiterated how my complaint “centers on the fact that I was not [Hirsch’s] patient” and cited the parts of my complaint and February letter that made this abundantly clear. I also provided information about the current case against Bandy X. Lee, a psychiatrist who had diagnosed Alan Dershowitz without being in a doctor/patient relationship with him and who lost her position at Yale as a result.
The Board misreads my complaint a third time
On May 25, 2021, the Board responded, contending this time that my complaint was not submitted within the seven-year window permitted. Wrong again! I submitted my complaint six years after Hirsch’s improper diagnosis, leaving the Board almost a year to investigate. The Board said it usually took between 12 and 18 months to investigate a complaint, but the date that matters is when the complaint is submitted, not when the Board gets around to investigating, as I pointed out in a letter dated August 5, 2021:
It is simply indisputable that my complaint was filed in time for the Board to spend an “average” amount of time investigating my allegations and filing an accusation. Beyond this, my complaint should not be much of a burden on the Board’s investigative team, as Hirsch’s sanctionable behavior all occurred via email. It is the time of complaint that must govern any statute of limitations, otherwise the Board’s own inefficiency would be an excuse to deny otherwise proper and timely claims.
The Board refuses to investigate my complaint
The Board responded a final time on September 2, 2021, dismissing my complaint. They wrote that the “primary focus” of their review is to “determine whether sufficient cause for concern exists to warrant pursuing a formal investigation.” They claimed that an investigation into my complaint “would not result in disciplinary action being taken against Dr. Hirsch’s license” and that as a result the file would be closed. This seemed to predetermine the result of any investigation – but by then it had become abundantly clear that the Board was not going to take me seriously.
Even so, a good result
I did not expect that going to the Board was inevitably going to result in Hirsch losing his medical license, although its published precedents indicate it had legitimate grounds to discipline him. Nevertheless, I am surprised that the quality of its work was so shoddy and that it appeared to be bending over backwards to avoid dealing with the facts I presented. I am a lawyer, my papers were clear, and I persisted even when I got nonsensical replies. I am left to wonder how the Board treats people without my resources and commitment.
Despite this outcome, for me this whole process of coming to terms with my rape, speaking about it in public and naming the rapist has been positive and important.
I have been powerfully struck by how many accomplished women I have encountered in my career have told me they were raped. Like me until now, they thought keeping silent about the rape and their rapist was the natural order of things. The shame and turmoil should belong to the rapist, not his victim. I am naming my rapist to try to shift the calculus of potential rapists, change the way society views them, and contribute to ending this crime.
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