Sexual Assault in the Workplace: It Can Happen to You

It goes without saying that being the victim of sexual assault is one of the worst things a person can go through. Victims are often scared, scarred, and too terrified of shame and judgment to speak out. Often, they just live in fear of what others will think of them. Many victims often live with the belief that the assault was somehow their fault, as if doing something differently on their part could have stopped it.

An Australian nursing website recently posted an article citing some shocking international statistics regarding sexual assault and harassment in the workplace. Unfortunately, studies have shown that, as nurses, we are in a very high-risk category for experiencing some degree of sexual assault or harassment in the workplace.

Statistics Support the High Risk

According to a statistics set published by ICN (the International Council of Nurses), nearly 9 percent of nurses experienced some sort of bullying at work and 97 percent of the nurses knew or knew of at least one nurse who had been a victim of rape or sexual assault while at work.

The statistics revealed, however, that it is not your co-workers or bosses who contribute to the high risk factor. Physical sexual assault on a nurse almost exclusively happens at the hands of a patient. One of the more surprising statistics is that 75 percent of the nurses experienced some form of sexual assault or harassment in the workplace. Moreover, most nurses in the study report that they did not feel safe and protected in their work environment.

These Statistics Are Terrifying

As a fellow nurse who works in a hospital alongside dozens of other nurses, reading this list of statistics really made my stomach flip. I am outraged, as I now imagine you are, that our co-workers, friends, and acquaintances deal with scary and potentially life-threatening situations every day. Better procedures, programs, and precautions should become a staple in all work environments for the safety of all nurses.

While being a nurse really and truly is an amazing blessing, working in a healthcare facility with open doors does have its inherent dangers. In a hospital, for instance, anyone can walk through the door. A standard hospital is treating hundreds of patients at any one time. You don’t know who the man or woman behind the next curtain is. You don’t know their level of mental stability or whether they have the potential to rape or assault someone.

If you are a medical drama fanatic, you might recall “Grey’s AnatomySeason 12, Episode 9, when a patient attacks Meredith. In the episode, Meredith was alone with the patient just long enough to become seriously injured. Later in the episode, doctors discovered it was a medical reason that resulted in the attack. However, it did not make what happened less traumatic. Moreover, if anyone else had been in the room with Meredith, the attack might not have happened.

It important that you take as many precautions as you can to keep yourself and potentially your friends and co-workers safe in the workplace, as well. Here are a few tips to keep in mind.

Be Friendly, but Keep Your Distance

As in many other sexual assault and rape situations outside of the nursing community, the attacker often feels that they have some sort of connection to their victim. These faux relationships grow by the amazing bedside manner of a nurse and how they care for their patients. It is not necessary to be cold and heartless, but it is wise to not become emotionally involved with patients, as in rare cases, this can cause major issues.

Do Not Make a Habit of Being Alone

While hospitals are busy places, there are dark corners and empty hallways. There are times when you will need to get to one place or another in a hurry, and safety might not be in the front of your mind. When at work, especially during nighttime hours, shift changes, and times of the day when security is at a minimum, travel to your destination using populated walkways and areas. Try not to put yourself in a position where you are not able to easily see other people or call for help if needed. If possible, travel with another employee, especially when you are having to transport or be in proximity to people whom you do not feel comfortable around. If something makes you uncomfortable, trust your instincts.

Be Alert and Aware

As nurses, we are often some of the most overworked, underappreciated persons in the medical field. This comes with the territory. It is important to remember that although tired, we must remain alert and privy to what is going on in our environment. Take note of people’s body language and whether they are acting suspiciously. Make a note of people who seem out of place or that shouldn’t be in certain areas.

If you work with others on the regular and you suddenly see someone new that you have not heard of or that doesn’t seem to know what they are doing, this could be a red flag. Paying attention to details can often mean the difference between your safety and a situation that you don’t want to be a part of.

Be Proactive About Your Safety

As a nurse, you love to provide care for other people. However, you must stop and provide care to yourself from time to time. If your local community center offers self-defense classes, it is wise to invest your time in one and encourage your fellow nurses and co-workers to do the same. If your workplace will allow for it, consider carrying a small can of pepper spray in a pocket or on a keychain. Personal alarms are also popular now. These are small devices that fit easily into a pocket. When you pull the pin, the device emits a loud, harsh sound to notify others around you. Simple precautions like these can dramatically improve your ability to react quickly and effectively in situations where someone threatens your personal safety.

Never take assault – sexual or otherwise – lightly. Harassment, fear, and not feeling safe in our workplace is not something that we should just shrug off as part of our job. We must stand together and make our voices heard to create safer workplaces for ourselves now and in the future.

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Scrubs Staff


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