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 14 of 14
For placement I was required to attend theatres at a new hospital I had never been to before. After finding the theatres I asked a female member of theatre staff where the changing rooms were, and how to get to the right theatre. A male member of staff then proceeded to half follow me into the changing room and ask if I needed help getting changed.
I am exhausted by the constant subconscious sexism. The comments that I should get a consultant job somewhere quiet so I can spend more time with my child, projects being given to male colleagues because I’m less than full time and less visible, the attitude that I’m less dedicated because I have to leave for nursery pick up or the judgement that I’m staying late for a case and not going home for my child’s bed time. I am grateful not to have experienced outward sexism or sexual harassment and then I realise how sad that is. Why should I be grateful for that? It should just be the norm.
When I was in my first GP post as a Clinical Assistant one of the Partners was quite in my opinion sleezy and thought he was funny. When I was about to start a smear clinic he came in and told me to open the window as it often got a bit whiffy in that clinic …when I actually got pregnant and told him he became very nasty and told me I had obviously planned the pregnancy to suit myself!! During my maternity leave I found out they had employed a man to cover me and were paying him much more than I had been on . At that point I went to BMA and I was awarded back pay for the difference. Over 20 years later I’m still disgusted by him.
It is a sad reality that I can’t write about my experiences with inappropriate behaviour, sexual harassment, sexual behaviours or even physical assault (of a sexual nature in this case) from patients because where would I start? I’m not talking about the frightened dementia patient who grabs out or says something inappropriate, but people who have complete control over their behaviour. Even as a student (many years ago), I quickly realised this was “part of the job” and there was no point in even reporting it because it was never taken seriously by those above. Examples range from inappropriate remarks, to masturbation in front of me/over the phone, to gropes/touching. Obviously, that isn’t “part of the job” but is very common. However, the one experience I can describe (and still makes me sick to my stomach) is one where it was a colleague (and mentor). He was known to be a (shall we say horrible person) and he always made you cringe and the whole shift would be apologising to patients/families for his rudeness. But on this particular shift, things got extra weird. He’d previously called me “sexy” and had asked to take photos of me in uniform, which I had of course declined – it is worth noting this was in front of other colleagues who remained painfully silent. But here we were, sitting on scene having discharged the patient, and he starts to make comments on my body. He offers to buy me clothes from the shop we’ve just been in to, so long as he can “see you in them sexy” and kept pushing me to accept his advances. The inappropriate comments continued all shift, as did the ‘accidentally walking into me’ (including hands touching me by “accident”) in the back of the ambulance, always whilst I was providing patient care, probably knowing I would almost certainly say nothing and carry on. I was trapped. Literally trapped in a tin box for 12 hours with a man who, as a student, had extreme power over me even in the context of being universally disliked by others. People had previously witnessed his inappropriate comments and said nothing so I felt completely powerless to say anything. Turns out my fears on speaking up were right, because I opened up to a trusted colleague a few weeks later and all I got was “well that’s X for you, don’t let it bother you”, the same dismissal as I’d got used to for patient events. Even all these years later, this makes me shudder and fearful. The culture in my former workplaces around sexual misconduct, from words to actions, is abhorrent. It is normalised, accepted and victims or survivors are gaslighted and left without compassion or support.
It’s all of the insidious stuff. Like how every time I order blood I get asked if a doctor has prescribed it, despite introducing myself as a doctor clearly at the start of the conversation, and I’ve never heard male colleagues be asked this. Or staff in all roles walking straight past me to ask the male doctor of equivalent grade/experience a question/advice. It’s being presumed to be anything but a doctor by staff, patients, relatives.
During admissions to medical school a female candidate was rated really highly by most of the panel apart from the lead admissions tutor (a man) who refused to rate her highly despite her objectively performing well as he didn’t want to admit ‘any more shy girls, as they always have problems’.
I had clerked a patient as a new F1, and the consultant in question was one who never made you feel stupid as a junior (most do), so I would tend to choose them were there more than one available consultant for post-take review. After presenting the patient, they were reading the notes, standing next to me, and reached down and grabbed my on one buttock. There was no preamble. It was too surprising and shocking to say or do anything. It was clearly not acceptable. What could you do as a new doctor? I simply tried to stand further away from him in future in similar scenarios. This did not stop it happening again. I did not ever report it as it isn’t easy to report things like this in medicine. Thankfully I was not the only person he did it to and someone else had the bravery to report it, and one day he disappeared from the ward.