Illustration by Christina S. Zhu

#MeToo in the medical sector: investigating the extent of sexual harassment committed by doctors 

What happens to doctors convicted of sexual harassment? How often do they lose their license and which sanctions do they face? Four journalists wanted to dig deeper into this phenomenon and find out just how widespread it was in their respective countries (Germany, Croatia, France, and Italy). 

Join us for a session with Cécile Debarge, Margherita Bettoni, and Jelena Prtorić to learn more about their investigation and what methods they used to track harassment in the medical field in four EU countries.

In December 2020, a retired French surgeon Joël Le Scouarnec, accused of sexually abusing over 300 young children over decades, was sentenced to 15 years in prison in the very first trial against him. Many of his victims were his patients. In Germany, an internationally respected HIV specialist allegedly abused and, in some cases, assaulted patients in his care, revealed an investigation of Buzzfeed Germany in 2019. Many other cases of sexual abuse and harassment committed by medical doctors have been reported by the media in both France and Germany, as well as in other parts of Europe.

In the past years, the #Metoo movement has swept the entertainment industry, the instances of widespread sexual harassment were reported within different institutions and in multiple countries. This research in four European countries has shown that sexism, harassment, and sexualized violence are endemic in the medical sector as well. 

Over eight months, the four journalists worked to create a comprehensive database of cases of sexual abuse and harassment in four different countries. In this session, they are going to guide you through the whole process: How they obtained the information from the medical authorities in their countries and at the European level; how they reached out to the survivors and gathered their stories, and how they dealt with data gaps.

“Accessing official data in Germany wasn’t complicated. The problem was the discrepancy between the officially registered cases of sexual abuse against patients (very few), and what experts, lawyers, psychotherapists, and women whom we talked to told us about the scale of the problem in Germany. So we had to find alternative ways of understanding how widespread the phenomenon really is,” explains Margherita Bettoni, investigative journalist.

In Germany, this involved, for instance, setting up a survey through which the victims were able to reach out to journalists or simply tell their stories. 

In other countries – France, Italy, and Croatia – it was much harder to gain access to the data. In some cases, the authorities even didn’t have the data; the survey asking victims to share their stories only got few (non-anonymous) answers.

“Having no official figures meant that we had to find another way to describe how common the phenomenon was,” says Cécile Debarge, French investigative journalist. “First, I collected roughly 75 stories published in the French newspapers over the last decade. Then, a doctor gave me a tip – the Medical Chamber has published some of the appealed disciplinary decisions. I built a second database that I cross-checked with the first one – I collected and analyzed 72 appealed decisions. This is not an exhaustive database, but the sample was significant enough for me to build my story.”

In Croatia, the national medical Chambre and the Health authorities were much less forthcoming. The investigation involved “an extensive FOI operation, which started last summer – and in some cases, still is ongoing; analysis of the media reports, and follow-up stories on the cases that came under media scrutiny in the past,” explains Jelena Prtorić, investigative journalist from Croatia. 

The team also included investigative journalist Julianne Löffler from Germany (Buzzfeed Germany).

Join us for the session to hear more about these difficult approaches, what results they’ve yielded and how you could replicate the methodologies in your country

You can find past and future stories here: 

The EU border agency Frontex has the largest budget of any EU agency. “We don’t meet with lobbyists,” they claim – an investigative team proved them wrong. Hear how to find your own story in their data.

If a public institution is reluctant to share information with the public, how can we use our right to file freedom of information (FOI) requests to obtain documents from them – and push them towards more transparency? Luisa Izuzquiza, researcher and campaigner with FragDenStaat, and Vera Deleja-Hotko, investigative journalist, will share with us how they used FOIs to build the first lobbying transparency register of Frontex.

This happens on the very first day of Dataharvest 2021, Tuesday, May 18, at 11am.

See the full Dataharvest program and buy your ticket

“Frontex is the golden standard of opacity,” says Luisa Izuzquiza.

Among journalists and researchers, Frontex has the reputation of being a secretive institution, from which it is difficult to get information and documents.

“EU institutions are not FOI user friendly, but Frontex is the golden standard of opacity. It is remarkable how difficult they make it to request information,” explains Luisa Izuzquiza.

For instance, the agency will usually ask repeatedly for a request to be narrowed down, will then ask you to pay for the documents, might require multiple clarifications while using “scary bureaucratic language,” and will, basically, stall you for as long as they can.

In June 2020, Izuzquiza, Deleja-Hotko and a couple of their colleagues decided to start researching Frontex.

“When we published, we got 1,8 million hits in the first 5 minutes, and our website crashed,” says Vera Deleja-Hotko.

“We thought it was weird that the EU border was being surveilled with military technology. But we weren’t searching to get the answer we eventually got. We initially didn’t know what we were expecting to find. Everything happened organically,” explains Deleja-Hotko.

The European Border and Coast Guard Agency, Frontex, does not meet with lobbyists from the weapons and surveillance industry. Or that is what they repeatedly claimed. On its website, Frontex includes only partial information about invitations to their meetings and does not reveal who was invited or what was presented. The team has revealed that Frontex holds special events for security industry lobbyists who seek to promote “solutions based on techno-fixes, from biometric surveillance to firepower.” The same lobbyists seek to shape Frontex’s approach to border control and benefit from the contracts.

In 2020 Frontex was granted a €5.6 billion budget, the largest of any EU agency. They have an army of 10,000 border guards; they got an extension of its powers and mandate, and the ability to acquire and lease its own equipment (vessels, vehicles, airplanes, drones, radars etc.).

The research team, of which Izuzquiza was part, requested the documents and analysed them; the journalistic team, of which Deleja-Hotko was part, analysed the documents and looked for the story in them.

“We used small bits of information to make people interested. And people were interested! When we published the story, we got 1,8 million hits in the first 5 minutes, and our website crashed…,” Deleja-Hotko says.

Izuzquiza and Deleja-Hotko’s team published the original documents in their entirety. They say that there are more stories to discover and delve into in the data they made available. Join the presentation – and maybe find your next big story!

See Corporate Europe Observatory Lobbying Fortress Europe report

See Frontex Files (ZDF)


The laws on access to information, often called FOI (Freedom of Information) for short, are some of our most important tools as investigative journalists. Following the paper trails is an art in itself, and many important investigations have reached their results through systematic – and creative – use of FOI. We have several sessions that give you tips and tricks during the conference. Among others, you can meet French Stéphane Horel from Le Monde, Swedish freelancer Read more