Your Stories

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.

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These stories contain descriptions of sexism, sexual harassment, and sexual violence.

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All Stories — Page 1 of 15

223

I have seen and experienced many things over the years (including direct sexual harassment and assault), having previously worked in operational departments. Having moved into a digital health field, I have found the latent, background misogyny to be still present but I am used to it. However, recently this has become more personally directed at me by my clinical director.

I have placed a star next to the parts which I consider to misogynistic.

I have received comments from him that are, while acknowledging the department has massively progressed since I started in my role as head of the unit; gaslighting me and my experience to my (male) line manager – indicating that I am a histrionic female* who “must take the nuclear option”* in my professional relationships (I am not – quite the opposite, in fact) despite him being the one who was basically saying if I didn’t do what he wanted he would tell the executive level he had to leave his role as my clinical director due to me being ‘difficult’*, constantly demanding I qualify myself* (which I have never seen him say to my male equivalents), demanding that I produce the “line in law” to back up what I am saying or he will tell other consultants to ignore me and, my personal favourite, that I should be grateful* because “I have tried really, really hard to NOT take credit for the work you have done”*.

This is all because I had the audacity to say “no” to a consultant and challenge him on a subject for which he has little knowledge while putting in a social boundary due to feeling a little encroached upon*. Everything was fine until then and he was even happy to go round telling people I am a ‘national expert’ in my subject beforehand. However, apparently now I do not understand anything or know what I am talking about, must be mansplained to* and spoken to like a child*.

His behaviour has escalated over a few months to moving into my personal space*, ambushing me when on my own, separating and isolating me from colleagues so he can bully me while by myself and using coercive language such as “I think you’ll agree with me when I say…” (no – I don’t – and stop trying to convince me I should!). He has also taken to trying to be involved in every little operational task and decision in my department, claiming he feels “left out” if he doesn’t know every tiny thing that happens (even though he shouldn’t know, or need to) and is trying to involve himself in line managing my staff, even though I have asked him not to.

He has taken the stance that he knows better* on every subject and gets very angry and escalates if I suggest he should not be involved in these matters. The last in-person encounter had quite a sinister feel to it which I have still not recovered from. I have spoken to HR and told them I am planning my exit from the organisation due to intolerable working conditions.

222

I had moved to a new area for the job. First time living on my own. Recently separated from my long term partner.

I worked directly with a male nurse lead on ADHD assessment and treatment. I was in post for 12 months. He was married and about 15 years my senior, so at first I assumed he was just trying to help me settle in, to welcome me to the team. There was an insidious onset of what started as flattery and developed into full stalking and sexual harassment.

I would enter my room in the morning and he would appear, he would always comment on my clothes, mainly my underwear, for example “what colour bra are you wearing” or else things like, “what are you eating, I wish it was me”. He sent emails with sexual content in them, “jokes” – to my work email – every morning. He constantly asked me about who I was dating. He would try and find ways to touch me, to corner me in rooms, to brush against me. One time he came into my room and picked up my boot (I had walked to work in boots and changed into shoes for work), he sniffed the boot and said “is this the closest I am going to get to you”.

I started to wear baggy clothes, I died my hair, I stopped going to common work areas I knew he might be in. A few colleagues had tried to help, to warn me, to tell him to back off. I started to repeat to his face “you are harassing me” and he would laugh and mock me, as if it was in my head, or my problem. Unlike most of the staff, I lived close to work, as I was living on my own and house prices were cheap, but everyone knew where I lived.

He once drove to my house, parked up and sat outside my house for several hours. The following day to this I phoned in sick and went to my mums house for a week. After confiding in my family, I kept a diary of events and I went to our line manager, the head of CAMHS. She was a consultant who was in her last year of work before retiring. She told me that they knew about his behaviour but that they had grown to accept it. That he was just like this, especially with certain roles he worked with over the years. She told me, a complaint had been made before so if I was to make a formal complaint then he would lose his job, and was that something I wanted to do? I handed over my evidence and said it was for them to decide. I left my job. Nothing happened. I feel sick with myself for allowing this to happen. I consider myself to be a strong, confident and independent female. If this happened to a friend, I would be all over it, giving them the advice they needed to hear.

But it happened to me and I still work in the area and I am fearful that one day I might bump into him.

221

I was asked by my TPD in core training at my initial meeting whether I had a partner, husband or any children, and had I thought about having children. This was so far off my radar at that time, I wasn’t interested in having my TPD ask about that – I wanted to talk about my training!

When working as an ST3 there was one consultant who creeped me out. He would always make sexist remarks, rub his lap if I was in his office to ask him a question and jokingly ask if I would come and sit on his knee to look at a CT scan. When we did ward rounds if we passed one of his consultant buddies (usually one particular orthopaedic surgeon) he would put his arm around me, pull me in close and make kissing noises towards my face, saying ‘look I get to have all the beautiful female trainees’. I was a new ST3 in a new hospital. I complained about it to my (male) educational supervisor who more or less laughed it off and said that was just how this consultant was. I asked if I could be not placed with him again and he said I would still have to rotate through the consultants which would include this consultant.

While I was on maternity leave I heard that he’d behaved in the same way towards a postgrad medical student who reported him. He has since retired/been suspended (I’m not sure which – he was close to retirement anyway) so I’m glad he won’t be able to behave like that at the workplace again.

I’m ashamed that I wasn’t the one to call him out, but I was also disappointed when one of the other (male) consultants in the department made a comment about what an awful time this consultant had been through as a result of the complaint, as if it wasn’t justified or was an overreaction. The discussions I’ve had with colleagues, particularly in the theatre team, since your talk Chelcie have been really helpful – we have all agreed we should go on active bystander training so we can be prepared to call people out on inappropriate behaviour. I’m so grateful that you are doing the work you are doing. Thank you.

220

There are unfortunately a lot of instances of sexist remarks, but the worst sexist episode I’ve experienced was as an SHO on a ward round with a male registrar and male consultant. I was using the computer on wheels, and at every patient we stopped at, when the computerised notes were being looked at the registrar would move forwards until their crotch was pressed against my bottom. I don’t know if the consultant noticed or not (I suspect not, because it was at times they were also looking at the screen). I did muster up the courage to talk to the registrar at the end of the day and say in a very awkward way that they hadn’t left enough personal space for me and could they do so in future. They didn’t apologise but told me they weren’t aware. They avoided talking, looking at or coming anywhere near me for the rest of the placement, which in some ways I was grateful for as I felt very awkward round them but also meant that I lost the support of my immediate senior as they were the main ward registrar, and was left to figure things out for myself. With the benefit of hindsight I wish I had reported it but felt too awkward and was afraid I couldn’t prove anything to the almost exclusively male consultants in the department.

219

I have worked in the NHS for a little over 16 years since commencing my training as an ODP at 18. The majority of my career has been worked in theatres and critical care, though over the last few years I have worked outside of this environment.

As such I have literally and figuratively ‘grown up’ experiencing and witnessing operating theatre ‘banter’ and the sexist and sexually unsafe behaviours and attitudes which are rife therein.

My experiences span several NHS hospitals, rather than being specific to one trust. These range from preferential treatment of certain female colleagues by male leaders based on appearance- including ‘scoring’ us by appearance- to lewd comments, sexually themed jokes and explicit questions.

Beyond this, to non-consensual touching such as being pressed/rubbed against passing the bed or trolley in the anaesthetic room, having hands put in my scrub pockets to ‘pass’ me something such that my breasts or bottom were touched, or being ‘invited’ to on call rooms.

What pains me most now is just how normal I believed it all to be. It was so widely acknowledged and accepted. It was this culture that meant that when a male doctor assaulted me in a much more invasive way, I simply avoided him until he rotated away. It didn’t even occur to me to report it.

218

Many years ago when I was a young nurse I got into the lift on a night shift at 3am transferring a sick patient. The porter I was with pushed himself up against me from behind, he had an erection and then he slapped me on my bum. I was 29 . I ran back to the ward terrified, the nurse in charge told me to forget about it and not to draw trouble on myself. I reported it the following day and had a meeting with the head of nursing, matron and my then manager. All three of them convinced me not take it any further, not to get the police involved,I was getting married the following month and did I really want all that hassle. Nothing was done about it,in fact the following shift he was back on the ward and I was expected to just get on with it and help him with my patients . A colleague of mine was furious and wrote an email to his boss, the porter was suspended on full pay for a week and wrote me a half hearted one sentence apology and that was it. Looking back now I feel so stupid that I didn’t stand up for myself or demand more

217

I am in a female dominated profession and in retrospect I have experienced harassment and discrimination for being a woman throughout my career. I have only felt comfortable describing it in these terms since getting older and have been able to get some perspective on my career as a whole. There were always the male colleagues you were advised against being on your own with … not an explicit warning, but the ‘eyebrow raise and sigh’ and the description of forty-year olds as being ‘a bit of a lad’. When I was a student a male nurse listed all his female colleagues in order of ‘shag-ability’ in the middle of the ward and no one said anything. As a newly qualified nurse I worked hard to stay below the radar of a charge nurse who would pass the keys to the medication trolley by grabbing your outstretched hand and placing them in your palm whilst caressing it. These behaviours and those like it, were so common as to be unremarkable. The incident I want to share is a sexual assault, and in truth it wasn’t the assault that hurt or that stayed with me. It was the overwhelming feeling of sadness and disappointment in my line manager. I love being a mental health nurse and have been one for nearly thirty years. I have held many senior positions and at the start of my career I was very focussed on developing my professional expertise. As a young female ward manager I was aware of the double standards around leadership, my male peers could ‘date’ multiple junior colleagues and they would never be held to account for reckless behaviour on nights out to ‘blow off steam’. These choices would not be tolerated in a female leader. To maintain a position of respect and responsibility I had to work to guard my reputation at all times. I was earnest and dedicated. I certainly didn’t date other staff or discuss my personal life, I didn’t drink to excess and left work nights early. In retrospect I think I felt I had earned a measure of protection because of this extra work I had done. That was why when it happened, I found it all the more shocking. It was my leaving party, I had been promoted and was moving on. I had arrived late because I had covered some work as a favour and walked in sober to find most of my work friends had started early. I was feeling pleased and proud of my success. My line manager was married, and frequently had ‘relationships’ with junior and temporary female staff. The women shook their heads over this accepted phenomenon, the men seemed to be in awe of it and no one questioned it because of his professional capability and personal charisma. I’d always had a good relationship with him, not close but he promoted me. I worked hard, kept my head down and was successful. He was at my leaving do and beckoned me over, it was noisy and I thought he wanted to congratulate me. He pushed me against the wall and put his tongue in my mouth, kissing me. I was astonished. It took me a moment to realise what had happened, I thought he must have gone mad. I pushed him back and he grinned at me and said ‘I’ve always wanted to do that’. I felt sad for myself and disappointed that my trust was so publicly betrayed. I could believe all the effort I had put into trying to prove myself worthy to be as ‘good as him, but in that instance I was so sorry for him, with all that power, respect and opportunity, wasting it on an action so shabby and pointless. I turned around left the pub and I left the area the next day to start my new job. I don’t know who saw what happened, but I never spoke to any of them again. I had worked in that hospital for nearly five years, for most of them in senior positions and felt it counted for nothing in the end. Of course, that is not the case and I am sure some of the people there would have been supportive if I had asked them for help. I couldn’t bear to do it though and see whose eyes would slide away. Who would mumble ‘he’s just messing about, ignore him’. I didn’t want to hear anyone say ‘you know what he’s like’, because I did. We all did. I am ashamed to say that I thought anyone getting mixed up with him knew what they were doing because he was hardly in disguise. It’s more complicated than that though, I’m not advocating the banning of relationships that start at work. However, they do leave the person with the least power vulnerable personally and potentially professionally compromised, I would like to see national policy ensuring fairness in this matter. I was in a position of authority, in a public space, with friends nearby and he just took what he wanted. Not because he was even particularly attracted to me, but because he could … on a whim and out of curiosity. I couldn’t do a thing about it then. But it changed me, I learned a lot from that experience. There isn’t anything you can be, do, wear, or say to stop people harassing or assaulting you … the only thing that predicts any person being victimised is being next to an unchecked predator. I have never let one slide since.

216

In Covid times, we used Zoom a lot in psychiatry and I would have online meetings with an Associate Specialist. He frequently commented on my appearance and how beautiful I looked on the screen, and this made me feel uncomfortable. How I looked was not relevant to the role I was doing as a doctor on a psychiatric ward with dementia patients. Even this throwaway commenting on appearance can make a female doctor feel uncomfortable and contribute to work stressors, so I thought I’d share my story. Thank you for all that you do, keep scrubbing and thriving!

215

As a female surgical trainee I’ve experienced sexism regularly from staff and patients. In my specialty training in one particular trust I was bullied and harassed so severely that my mental health deteriorated and I had thoughts of taking my own life. I asked to leave that trust and got myself the help I needed to get better. It started of mild, negative comments about women in surgery. Asking me inappropriate personal questions. Telling me i would leave to have a baby. Asking me if I was capable of simple tasks i could do. Over explaining simple things I already knew. Progressing to shouting at me in public rather than teaching or explaining to the point where patients and staff who would help intervene. At its worst they would come find me on my own and say things such as i must be struggling, that i was useless, that i could not be trusted and needed to go away learn elsewhere and come back. They tried to hold me back. They wouldn’t train me despite my educational supervisor getting involved. They tried to stop me from joining the oncall rota despite the fact I’d been independently oncall already elsewhere. They told me they didn’t want to operate with me out of hours despite the fact I was doing this prior to this trust well. There were no issues that I’d had for them to have this opinion of me. They did however allow my junior male colleague to do all of this without issue. Another female trainee was treated as i was. They would not trust my judgement to a point that a patient would have died or have significant morbidity if I didn’t go get a male colleague to help me convince them we needed to return the patient to theatre. Despite their best efforts to bully me out of the speciality because my face didn’t fit and the serious impact that had. I’ve gone on to train successfully and thrive elsewhere without additional time. If you’re going through a story like mine. Don’t let them win. Keep going.

214

As an female F1 on an orthopaedics firm I experienced a number of instances of sexual harassment. For example – at the work Christmas party whilst in a taxi with colleagues, one of the consultants made an unwanted advance, touching me on the thigh twice. The following year after having left the trust, I was added to a WhatsApp group by the same consultant, inviting me to the next Christmas party – on looking more closely, only the female F1s had been included.

213

I’m a student nurse but I also work on the bank as a HCA. One day on shift, I noticed a patients oxygen levels dropping. I wasn’t sure if they were receiving oxygen therapy, so I decided to clarify with the consultant. As I approached the consultant, he was speaking to an F1 and another bank HCA, who was also a med student. All three of them are males. When asking if the patient needed oxygen, they all sniggered and laughed, as well as making some comments under their breathe. I asked ‘what’s the joke?’, where none of them answered and continued to snigger. I’ve never felt so humiliated in front of three, male professionals. After reflecting on this, it felt like a sexist situation and as a consequence, I’m now wary of asking these simple questions. It turned out, this patient was quite unwell and ended up requiring oxygen therapy.

212

When I was a junior doctor working in general surgery I attended a twilight shift in my scrubs. I went to say hello to my colleagues on the surgical ward which was very busy. A senior colleague of mine greeted me, looked down at my breasts and said ‘ can I ask you something, where are your boobs?’ in front of around 10 colleagues. Only one colleague spoke up. The rest were quiet. The worst was the matron laughed in my face. I reported this to the head of surgery and he was given a warning. He then proceeded to come and ‘apologise’. Instead he berated me and told me that it was a joke and I should know that he has that sort of personality. He then told me that he wanted nothing to do with me in a threatening voice.

211

I work with a team with 3 managers. 2 middle managers and 1 senior manager. I am female ~ 60, and am one of the middle managers. The senior manager is male and late 40’s, the other middle manager is late 30’s and male. For the past year I have experienced exclusion as the norm – discussions happens between, and decisions are made by my two male colleagues together only.

When all 3 of us are meeting with the wider team, any views I express are immediately shot down by the senior manager and I feel regularly denigrated in front of the juniors. On the other hand, views expressed by my male colleague are immediately hailed as high value by the senior manager even when they are clearly totally ridiculous. At these meetings with Juniors, there is almost constant eye contact between my two male colleagues. I always leave those meetings feeling totally excluded, humiliated and feeling very down, wanting to quit. My male colleague, although much less qualified, experienced, and very much less productive than myself, is promoted highly around the Trust by the senior manager, while he seems to try to hide me, but inevitably my performance and productivity speaks loud on my behalf.

On a number of occasions I have received clear ageist comments from my male middle manager colleague. My request to have excess time worked back was refused by senior manager, although my male colleague takes time off for excess time worked, with no evidence of when the time was worked. I am a very experienced manager myself and there is no question that what I am experiencing is gender and age discrimination. I have not done anything about this up to now, because apart from these 2 male colleagues, I really like working at this Trust and I like it’s staff in general. It feels good to get this out there in this story, and undoubtedly there will come a point when my tolerance runs out and I will act.

210

The list is countless.

Messaged on Facebook by the “equipment library technician” things like “when can I see that beautiful smile again”. Harassed by a male nurse whilst on a psychiatry placement- constantly asking me about my boyfriend and sex life whilst I was at work. Male A&E registrar waited for me outside work after a late shift, then invited me to his room “to have cake” as it was his birthday, then tried to kiss me when we were alone – when I was a GP trainee and he knew I had a boyfriend.

The worst thing was being raped by a fellow F2 after a night out at the pub. I refused to go to F2 teaching after this as he was there, and was asked about my poor attendance. I told them I had been raped by a colleague; they excused me from the teaching and that was the end of that.

Sexism is rife in hospitals. There wasn’t a single placement I did where I wasn’t creeped out or actually assaulted by a male colleague.

209

Working in a very busy emergency department as one of the registrar doctors on a weekend shift. We were already holding on ambulances and only had one space left in resus. I went to review a patient on the back of an ambulance who was scoring a 7 on his News. He had an infective exacerbation of his COPD.

Immediately I felt a strange vibe from the male paramedic who had been looking after him in the ambulance. I was interrupted on several occasions while taking my history, he felt that the patient either needed resus, or should stay in the ambulance on a monitor instead of going onto the corridor when a space was made available. I explained that my plan was to do an ABG and ensure he hadn’t decompensated, but that if he hadn’t I would be happy for him to go on the corridor. This would mean we could start treatment and have him in an area we could keep an eye on him as a department.

I was getting push back already from the paramedic, so ensured my consultant agreed with my plan, which she did. I arrived back in the ambulance with the gas, which was fine. I was interrupted again by the paramedic asking to interpret the gas himself (I hadn’t released I needed to run ABGs passed my paramedic colleagues before). I explained I was happy for the patient to go on the corridor, and that I would start treatment there and refer him to the medics. Again, I was interrupted by the paramedics explaining to the wife and patient that we would have to wait for bloods and CXR to then decide if he would be admitted (I hadn’t realised that it was the paramedics who decided who was being admitted!).

I had to explain that given he was on oxygen, even if all the tests come back negative I would be keeping him in. I then went to prescribe, refer etc. in our office. By the time I came back to the corridor I found that the paramedic had taken the patient in, told the senior nurse on the corridor that this was a standby who needed to go into resus. He had dumped the patient in the last space in resus and left the department, completely undermining everything that I had said and done.

I escalated to both consultants on shift who were angry on my behalf and escalated it to the paramedic in charge. I do feel quite strongly that if I was a male doctor, instead of a blond, young, female doctor, this would not have happened.