Here we share your stories of sexism, sexual harassment and sexual assault in healthcare. Every story is a powerful testimony, describing lived experiences and the impact of sexual violence.
Thank you to every person who has shared their story with us.
These stories contain descriptions of sexism, sexual harassment, and sexual violence.
All Stories — Page 1 of 14
As an FY1 I had an undiagnosed medical condition which prevented me from starting work. The Consultant looking after my care was excellent medically and seemed to take a really kind interest in me. He helped me get through occupational health and into work and he also helped with a transfer application on health grounds. He also offered placements with him for learning purposes which I thought was really kind. He started to email more and change the conversation to personal things. I was initially so grateful that he had helped me that I tried to ignore the discomfort of this. I felt I had encouraged this somehow by being friendly and appreciative. It ended up that after an appointment after declining drinks out, he trapped me in his office and it felt like I was there for hours while other patients waited. He wanted my number, which I couldn’t escape from giving and he texted me repeatedly afterwards. I managed to leave after a Nurse came in to say his patients for the afternoon were leaving because he had kept them waiting so long. I was so grateful that she came in as I was terrified and couldn’t get to the door. I didn’t go back for more medical treatment after that and asked my GP to look after my care instead. Her response to me was that this was common for him and he had left his wife for his previous House Officer so I was just the latest. This did get escalated by the Education team and I had to speak with the Dean who interrogated me on whether I had slept with him and just regretted it and whether I had worn my engagement ring to appointments. It was horrible being a witness, I was threatened by the Foundation team, singled out by the hospital Medical Director to explain why I was doing this and I had my own reputation investigated clumsily by HR. It was an awful process as an FY1 to go through with no support and victim blaming at every level, which I now see clearly, but at the time I was so vulnerable and felt huge guilt and shame.
The words “she needs a sh*g” said about me in front of everyone after a professional disagreement with a more senior male nurse, even worse it was said in front of other senior nursing staff who all put their heads down. Biggest regret of my life not reporting it, I was newly qualified at the time. I still think about it filled with anger.
I no longer work in this place.
I was working in a department which had a reputation for consultants bullying juniors. Almost all of the consultants were men. They made various comments during the time I worked there including asking how much we (a group of junior female colleagues) weighed, and then guessing our weights, commenting on the Lycra a colleague who cycled to work wore, including saying they’d seen her in the park in her Lycra, and asking us individually when we were going to have children and how we thought we could continue with this career with children. They openly criticised people for working less than full time. Overall it was a toxic, sexist environment, with men who constantly needed to nurse their egos.
The on call cardiology consultant has historically been called the COW in my Trust and the neighbouring one that is linked at board level. After nurses and other members of staff expressed unease about using this term when I was on call ( COW is an offensive term when applied to women rather than men) I tried to get it changed to something more suitable. At the time I was the only female cardiology consultant out of 7 in my Trust and 22 in the sister Trust. I asked my clinical lead to change this but it wasn’t changed. In 2021 I suffered direct discrimination at work and met managers where I also raised the issue of the COW acronym. The freedom to speak up guardian and chief people officer were also aware of my concern that the COW acronym was a clear form of sex discrimination. Partial change was made but the term remained in used daily since then. I have raised the issue again in 2023. This time my concerns seem to have coincided in a leadership role being taken from me. The cardiology GIRFT report uses the COW acronym in it to encourage Trusts to have a weekly rather than daily on call rota and this fact has been used as a reason not to change the COW acronym. The COW acronym remains in place in the sister Trust. EASS and ACAS have confirmed that it causes indirect sex discrimination and its presence in a report does not prevent it from needing to be removed. I’ve not had any apology from the Trust for the discrimination I have been suffering esp since 2021. No comment has been made about the underlying misogyny and sexist attitudes that need to be present within the department in order for the above events to have occurred. This is a clear provable and easily fixed case of sex discrimination that even 2 years after officially raising it with managers isn’t sorted and is ongoing evidence of widespread ingrained male arrogance and misogyny in conjunction with a managerial workforce who seem unable to stand up to them.
As a locum SHO, I have had several male registrars that found it appropriate to touch my buttock with their hand as they were passing behind me in narrow spaces, such as in a patient’s cubicle or when I’m documenting something in the computer while standing up. I submitted a formal complaint against one of them, but having no evidence or witnesses, the trust said they couldn’t do anything about it. I can only imagine what these doctors do to vulnerable female patients in the privacy of their consulting rooms.
A doctor senior to me asked me for sex despite being aware I was in a long term relationship. He then put pressure on me to keep this a secret, denied any wrongdoing and became increasingly angry until I changed my phone number so that he couldn’t contact me any more.
I was an F1. There was a consultant in the department who everyone knew was a creep but people excused it by saying it was just a cultural difference because he was not from the UK. One time I took a history from a patient who spoke no English as I knew a little bit of their native language. The consultant said thank you and hugged me in front of everyone and the hug made me feel really uncomfortable. Another time he suddenly stroked my face for no reason and that also made me feel on edge. He had a reputation for finding any excuse to touch female colleagues but nothing was said because he was so senior. I would always do my best to avoid him. As far as I know he’s still working there.
I was an F1 in A&E. I once referred a patient to ortho and I got chatting with the SHO because I wanted to specialise in orthopaedics. He said if I gave him my number he would be in touch to try and arrange a taster day for me or something like that. So I gave him my number and he started to send me inappropriate messages saying things like “the night shift would be more fun if you were here because I bet you have more skills than just putting in cannulas”. I told him I was in a relationship. I should have shut him down more assertively but I didn’t want to seem rude and also I wanted the orthopaedic taster day he had promised. He then sent me a picture of him in just his boxers. I didn’t report him because I thought I’d led him on a bit.
My last boss was superficially very friendly but would often make comments that were very undermining. One time while examining a patient he asked me about leg dermatomes and my mind went blank. He said to the patient “wow, I really thought she’d know the answer to that because she had a rotation in neurology before this”. I should have known the dermatomes but I felt really upset that he would say that in front of a patient. He was always making comments about my gender and how I may be better suited to hand surgery than arthroplasty because that’s what most female orthopods do. One time we were removing metalwork from a patient’s ankle and I was struggling to get a screw out. He made a comment about how I need to go to the gym more and then he tried to get the screw out. The head of the screw had been completely stripped by whoever had put it in and my consultant couldn’t remove it either.
I was stressed during F1 because of a more senior doctor I worked with. He was very charming and supportive at first and we became friends but then it became apparent that he could also be very controlling. He became unreasonably angry if I mentioned to people that he and I talked outside of work, which I found weird. Looking back I think it suggests he knew that something was wrong with his behaviour. I asked not to work with him any more. A female consultant made me go into her office and wouldn’t let me leave until I told her why I was sad. I told her that I didn’t want to work with this SHO any more and she totally sided with him, saying “If you want to be a woman in surgery you need to be more emotionally robust than this because he’s a perfect gentleman and you’ll meet worse people than him in your career”. Nothing physical ever happened but months later he told me he “just thought of me as a sex doll”. He was very much not a perfect gentleman and I have no real idea why the female consultant was protecting him.
I was returning from a conference. I was sharing a car ride back and was in the backseat with my senior registrar. It was 8pm. I was married and just pregnant and so was he. Suddenly I felt his hand on my thigh. I froze. I am careful not to appear flirty or promiscuous. What prompted him to think I wanted this attention?! I firmly removed the hand. He got the hint!
On another occasion in clinic, I was checking case notes when suddenly a locum Consultant pass behind me and pulls at my bra strap from behind! I was so shocked! Before I could even retaliate he had disappeared! The creep!
Raped by fellow medical student in fresher’s week. Alcohol was involved and I suppose I considered this ‘date rape’- I had kissed him but certainly did not consent to what followed which was brutal and prolonged. I felt very stupid and very responsible and didn’t tell anyone for some time. I became very withdrawn and self conscious and retreated into myself. Things became increasingly difficult and I found it hard even to walk past people in the street without experiencing huge anxiety. I got back together with my boyfriend from school who was lovely but perhaps ‘enabled’ my withdrawal.
It all became harder when we started clinical placements and I had to see this individual more regularly and in smaller groups. I stopped attending clinical placements in the city but would attend those outside the city- we did one month centrally and one month peripherally per specialty block. In 4th year I was attacked by the same individual on hospital premises and became pregnant. I had a TOP. At this point I approached the UG Dean and was told I had to ‘just get on with it’. I couldn’t and it became clear I would fail my final year. I felt completely unsupported by all the senior team at the university – I am disgusted when I look back on it. I was seen as the ‘problem’ and they clearly wanted to get rid of me. I was an embarrassment.
I finally told my parents. They had to work very hard to advocate for me and I am grateful to them and to the then chancellor of the university and the head of medicine in my home city university who enabled me to move home and complete my final year. I sought help from my GP at this point and underwent sexual health screening and was referred for counselling.
In a new city, I flourished at university and graduated. I have since progressed through training, have been a consultant for over a decade, and hold several high level national roles advocating for training and equality and inclusion. My own health has not fared so well and there is no doubt this has all left a terrible legacy on my emotional and psychological well-being. Eventually, with the right help, I ‘recovered’ from my eating disorder (as far as this is possible) but there is a lasting impact on how I see myself, on how much I push myself and on my physical relationship with my wonderful husband. I continue to experience body dysmorphia and set myself impossible standards. I remain very angry at individuals in the university and sincerely hope that things have changed for the better.
I often wondered whether sharing my story might empower others to speak up or help to effect change and am genuinely in awe of those who do and inspired by those who do, including of course, Becky and Chelcie. I still wonder about sharing but know that on the very rare occasion that I have done so, it has felt so horribly awkward and I worry that it changes people’s perceptions of me. Will they feel I am responsible? Will they ask what happened to the perpetrator (I have huge guilt over this but after being so broken down by the university and indeed advised NOT to divulge their name I chose not to go down this route – he said, she said, and statistics around successful prosecution shocking still, never mind all that time ago)? So I don’t. I will however continue to do all I can in my various roles to raise awareness and ensure there are appropriate policies and resources in place.
When I was a medical student, at the end of a plastic surgery attachment (which I had really enjoyed) I submitted an essay. It was returned with an excellent mark, but also a card inviting me to dinner with the (much older) male consultant and his phone number. He suggested that I didn’t tell my friends because ‘you know how people get the wrong idea’. I never contacted him or reported it. I did tell non medical friends who were shocked. More recently after presenting at an examination course, my anonymised feedback included an invite to go out.
As a Dermatology registrar training in a different Trust, I got told by a male ITU consultant “Not to worry my pretty little face” regarding a diagnosis for a patient he had requested a skin biopsy for.
Firstly, this story is from many many years ago. I became aware of an ‘incident’ on one site between a junior (female) and more senior (male) and more experienced colleague who were part of the NHS Trust (not the site I worked on at the time, but had done in the past so I knew who the accused and suspected victim were, also her partner who worked with us).
Please do note that this was ‘rumour’ but subsequent events seemed to corroborate that something happened. I suspect (but cannot confirm) that it was reported and investigated by a direct line manager who had known the accused for many years and I suppose that this means it was not an objective process (for these things I believe it should be someone independent). I also believe this caused some controversy between members of the management team with some also agreeing it should be independent and escalated further.
A few weeks passed and the accused was moved to my working site rather unexpectedly. After a couple of weeks he began following me into store rooms (so we were on our own) and trying to make advances. At this point we were on the same staffing level but I was viewed as more inexperienced. I refused these advances and immediately tried to exit the room each time (he always closed the door behind him so I knew what was coming).
On one occasion, he followed me into a smaller store cupboard and therefore, he was between me and the door handle/door, he attempted to tear open my uniform and made advances at me. Fortunately (or unfortunately) I had been in similar situations as a child with a teenage family member (we were both teenagers) and had ‘techniques’ to finally manage to get myself out of this situation.
I did not ever report anything because the manager/matron had clearly not taken the original (rumoured) complaint seriously because there was ‘no evidence’ and because this person was no longer working with the original victim, she was out of range for him – at least this way I could ‘deal with it’. Also, I was worried about my job, reputation and status in the team but also felt it was my fault in some way. I eventually left (not solely because of this) but later heard that this behaviour was not isolated to myself and the other junior member of staff. That it had happened before and after I left.
Again, there was ‘no evidence’ so others hadn’t reported it – it’s just rumour and ‘it’s just how he is’ ‘he’s always been like that’. On reflection, I wish I had reported it but the system just wasn’t there to support us, I ran the risk of others denying it and I just took a ‘resilient’ approach as I had done when I was a child (again, I never disclosed this for the same reasons).
I have mentioned this to a previous partner who did not really take me seriously, my current husband does believe me but it’s so long ago now, and so much has happened in life since, I have ‘got over it’. But I do feel guilt that he may have gone on to do this with more vulnerable members of staff. My husband actually went to the extent of checking if he was still a registrant (he is). Now, it’s far too late in life to report this (if there was not enough evidence then, there won’t be now) but if I can help others, then hopefully this experience may contribute to the cause.