As the long history of sexual harassment in Hollywood continues to come to light, many other fields are beginning to speak up as well, including the nursing profession. This female-dominated field is not immune to the nationwide issue of sexual assault.
Experts put some of the blame for sexual harassment against nurses on the sexualization of nurses by the media. Sexual harassment of nurses can vary from offensive jokes and sexual comments to unwanted patient advances and hospital physicians assaulting their employees.
Several nurse organizations have published coverage on this issue, including the American Nurses Association (ANA) Position Statement:
“ANA is deeply committed to the principles of civil rights and opposes any form of discrimination against individuals or groups of individuals based on sex, race, age, national origin, religion, disability, or sexual orientation. ANA believes that nurses and students of nursing have a right to and responsibility for a workplace free of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment has an adverse impact on the health care environment.”
A 2001 NurseWeek study revealed that 19 percent of nurses surveyed reported being sexually harassed in the previous year. However, underreporting is still a major issue. Many nurses become thick-skinned due to dealing with difficult patients, and this can cause them to make light of the seriousness of sexual harassment.
Hospital procedure usually enables direct-care workers to remove themselves from patient cases where patients have crossed the line, but nurses rarely do so. Many nurses and healthcare workers receive training on how to deal with sexual harassment, especially if they work for a hospital, but training appears to yield limited results.
Despite the issue of underreporting, it is still an employer’s job to create a work environment that prevents sexual harassment. Nurses who are sexually harassed at work often face frustration, emotional distress, and professional setbacks. Many even leave the field altogether. It’s important that nurses watch out for each other and report inappropriate behavior so that hospitals can become safer places to work.
ANA offers this advice on What to Do If You’re Harassed:
- Confront the harasser, and make it clear the attention is unwanted.
- Report the harassment to your supervisor or to a higher authority if your supervisor is the harasser. Go to a government agency or the courts if necessary.
- Document the harassment promptly in writing.
- Seek support from friends, relatives, colleagues, or your state nurses association.