For a nurse, sexual harassment can come in the form of unwanted flirtation or even sexual assault. Unfortunately, nurses are significantly more likely to encounter some form of sexual assault or harassment than professionals in other fields. According to a study published an issue of Nurse Week, 19 percent of nurses reported some form of sexual assault. The number is even higher for male nurses.
An Example of the Problem
According to an article on Monster, one high-profile example of sexual harassment in the nursing industry comes in the form of a sexual harassment case in 2003 involving more than 50 women (many of them nurses and other medical staff) at Lutheran Medical Center in Brooklyn. The medical center agreed to pay nearly $5.5 million because a doctor inappropriately touched or harassed incoming medical staff members during pre-employment exams.
The Naughty Nurse Stereotype
Many agree stereotypes, such as the naughty nurse, set the stage for an environment where many medical staff members and patients believe sexual harassment is an acceptable way to treat a member of the nursing team.
“Naughty-nurse images in the media are really nonstop, so it’s clear where men get the idea that nurses are there to provide sexual service to patients,” said Sandy Summers, an RN and executive director of the Center for Nursing Advocacy.
One of the reasons why sexual harassment in the nursing industry is such a big problem is because it is an underreported issue. Instead of following policies of the hospitals or clinics in place to deal with this type of issue, nurses develop a thick skin and try to ignore it. Truthfully, nurses are so overworked and understaffed, they do not always have time to deal with it the right way. Moreover, depending on who the perpetrator of the sexual harassment was, some nurses fear reporting it.
How to Deal with Harassment
Sexual harassment in the nursing industry – or any industry – is not a problem to avoid. This is a problem to face head-on. For starters, you should confront the individual harassing you and make it clear you do not have an interest in the advances or flirtation. Obviously, confronting the individual harassing you is not possible 100 percent of the time. If you fear your safety will come into jeopardy if you confront the individual, get help from a third party instead.
Take the time to document the harassment. The documentation serves as evidence that the harassment happened. If you ask the individual harassing you to stop or seek help from a third party, document this, as well. In most cases, the hospital or clinic should help you get out of the harassing situation. If your place of employment does not help you, however, the documentation is how you protect yourself.
Nursing Stories of Harassment
One of the biggest concerns with sexual harassment against nurses is that some nurses do not even realize what sexual harassment is. Anytime someone says or does something that makes you feel uncomfortable, it might be harassment. Here are some stories from sexually harassed nurses to help you understand.
Unwanted Dinner Invite
I had a patient come in for a skin graft for his penis. After a really bad run with HPV, his mangled manhood needed plastic surgery. In the midst of telling him all of the post-procedure instructions, he pointed at his mangled manhood and asked, “When this thing is better, do you want to go on a date?”
I treated a patient with a really bad case of genital herpes. This patient claimed he contracted them from a toilet seat (not possible) and wanted me to confirm this to his wife (not going to happen). While examining him, he became erect. “I guess this isn’t a bad day for me after all,” he breathed as he winked at me. I ended up leaving the room and finding a male nurse to take over.
Don’t forget to check out our article, “How do I deal with nurse bullies,” for more advice on how to handle unwanted attention.