Message from the Registrar and CEO: OCSWSSW Takes Steps to Address Increase in Sexual Misconduct-Related Complaints

What Employers Need to Know

Over the past two years, the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers has witnessed a 107% increase in the number of complaints received related to sexual misconduct. This increase is deeply disturbing. It is also a call to action for employers of social workers and social service workers, who have an ethical obligation to address professional boundary violations if/when they become aware of them, and a legal obligation to report sexual misconduct.

Maintaining professional boundaries

All Ontarians have the right to expect that their registered social worker or social service worker will establish and maintain a professional relationship and provide ethical and competent care.

As regulated professionals, social workers and social service workers must maintain professional boundaries at all times. Sexual contact between College registrants and their clients not only undermines the public’s trust in the professions, it is also strictly forbidden under the College’s Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice and the Professional Misconduct Regulation, O. Reg. 384/00, made under the Social Work and Social Service Work Act, 1998. Breaching professional boundaries and engaging in any form of sexual contact with a client are extremely serious forms of professional misconduct, which can result in penalties up to and including the revocation of a registrant’s certificate of registration with the College.

What the numbers are telling us

Since the launch of our public awareness campaign in 2019, the College has seen a steady increase in the number of complaints received overall. These results are to be expected, as we estimate that millions more Ontarians are now aware of the College and its public protection mandate.

The number of sexual misconduct-related complaints received by the College, however, has increased at a much faster rate. In 2021, for example, sexual misconduct-related complaints represented 8% of all complaints received; last year, this number grew to 16%.

The number of sexual misconduct-related matters referred to the College’s Discipline Committee grew at an even faster rate: these cases represented 59% of the total number of referrals to discipline in 2022 – up significantly from 25% in 2021.

One report of sexual misconduct is one report too many. The fact that there were 13 cases referred to the Discipline Committee involving allegations of sexual misconduct in 2022 is extremely concerning.

What we can do to address sexual misconduct

As part of our efforts to reduce the incidence of sexual misconduct, the College is embarking on a multi-faceted campaign to shed light on this issue, educate stakeholders about the importance of maintaining professional boundaries and ensure that registrants, employers and others understand the serious harm that boundary violations and sexual misconduct cause to clients. This campaign will engage with College registrants, service users and employers to ensure that they are aware of the many public protection tools available to them. I look forward to sharing more about the campaign with you in the weeks ahead.

In the meantime, if you employ social workers and social service workers, I encourage you to learn more about your mandatory reporting obligations by visiting the College website. You can also learn more about professional boundaries and what constitutes sexual abuse and/or a boundary violation by reading the other articles in this issue of the Employer Communiqué.

We all have an important role to play when it comes to reducing the incidence of sexual abuse and misconduct. The time for action is now.


Lise Betteridge, MSW, RSW
Registrar and CEO