A Sydney doctor has been sentenced to six years behind bars for sexually assaulting patients while working at a sleep research clinic.
Ali Khorami pleaded not guilty to committing sexual offences against five females aged between 16 and 29 whom he supervised during overnight sleep examinations in 2018 at Glebe's Woolcock Institute of Medical Research. The women had been referred to the clinic for overnight observation for a range of sleep-related disorders.
Despite CCTV footage from the facility capturing Mr Khorami exposing his genitals to the women while they were sleeping, he maintained his innocence, claiming he was performing alternative ‘tantric therapy' and had the women's consent to do so.
The allegations included that the doctor placed his hands in their groin areas and masturbated in the same room as the sleeping women, and that he told some of the women to remove their bras because they would become entangled in the sensor wiring.
Sexual offence against 16-year old
One screenshot from the overnight footage shows Mr Khorami placing his penis on a 16-year old's hand.
He testified in court that the woman told him she was 17, and that he therefore believed she was able to make her own decisions about medical treatment. He added that the girl was not sleeping at the time of the incident, and that she ‘wanted to take the experience', explaining that this was not something he normally did, but was a ‘special treatment' for some patients.
Mr Khorami was originally charged with 25 criminal offences, and a jury took just two days to find him guilty of 22 of them, including drugging one of the victims by spiking her drink with temazepam, a drug used to treat insomnia.
Spiked orange juice
The court heard that he told the 20-year-old patient her blood pressure was low and allegedly gave her spiked orange juice before indecently assaulting her.
The following day she told clinicians she had “no recollection” of the evening and felt abnormally tired. She made a complaint to police after a urine test showed up traces of substances she did not recall taking. During the night of her stay at the clinic, CCTV footage and research data was stopped three times — for periods of six minutes, 15 minutes and half an hour.
Dr Khorami said in this case, the woman had requested the cameras be turned off. In others he alleged that technical problems caused interrupted monitoring of the women.
During the sentencing hearing, Judge Leonie Flannery stated that Mr Khorami committed a “gross breach of trust” and assaulted the women “at a time when they were particularly vulnerable, being asleep or isolated in their room” and that it was “troubling” that the doctor continued to maintain he was engaging in legitimate medical practice.
Her Honour handed down a sentence of six years in prison, with a non-parole period of three years and nine months.
The offence of sexual assault in New South Wales
It is defined as where a person “has sexual intercourse with another person without the consent of the other person and who knows that the other person does not consent to the sexual intercourse”.
The legal definition of consent
Section 61HE of the Crimes Act provides that a person consents to sexual activity if he or she freely and voluntarily agrees to it.
The section also outlines that alleged offender knows there is no consent if he or she engages in sexual activity, or incites anyone to do so, in circumstances where he/she:
- knows the alleged victim does not consent, or
- is reckless as to whether the alleged victim consents, or
- has no reasonable grounds to believe the alleged victim consents.
- In deciding whether there is consent, the court must consider any steps taken by the alleged offender to ascertain whether there is consent.
The court cannot take into account any self-induced intoxication by the alleged offender.
The section makes clear there is no consent where the alleged victim:
- does not have the capacity to consent due to factors such as their age (outlined above) or cognitive ability, or
- does not have the opportunity to consent because they are unconscious or asleep, or
- consents because of threats of force or terror, or
- consents due to being unlawfully detained, or
- consents because of a mistaken belief:
(a) as to the identity of the alleged offender,
(b) that the two are married,
(c) that the activity is for health or hygienic purposes, or
(d) that arises through any fraud.
The grounds upon which it may be established that the alleged victim did not consent include that he/she:
- was substantially intoxicated,
- was intimidated, coerced or threatened in any way, or
- was under the authority or trust of the alleged offender.
The section further makes clear that if a person does not resist, this is not in itself to be regarded as establishing consent.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.