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 2 of 14
In my hospital we have to park in an old car park about 5 mins walk from the hospital. Its an abandoned/derelict gas works with barbed wire fencing surrounding and only one way in or out. The route to the car park is not lit and nor is the car park. There are no security cameras. As a doctor, especially in the winter, we leave late after a long day when its dark and hardly any other people walking back to the car park. I feel incredibly vulnerable as a women walking over there on my own. I often find myself running, getting in my car and locking the doors as soon as possible. I wrote to the chief executive as I was so concerned for my safety and the safety of other staff – especially women. I asked whether they might consider putting up some lighting/cameras. I did not get a response. Instead I received an email from the head of estates who told me if I was worried I should ask security to escort me. This is obviously not a realistic solution!
Ok, full disclosure, I don’t work in the NHS anymore but spent a good decade in it (18 years old, fresh at uni, getting repeated breast examinations by my GP). Some of the docs involved in this were British, Australian. The point is, it’s a culture of the profession rather than a culture of a country. I’ve seen it in many forms, in many places. I was a very young looking, naive reg, working in a small hospital where we were all friends, half these people I’d make referrals to 3-4 times a day. We would hang out in the evenings at the one bar/club because there was nowhere else to go to. It was a four street town. So it wasn’t a surprise that one evening we were all out late together. Way passed the time when taxis were still working and I didn’t have much of a way making it back home safely. One of the regs said I could stay in his spare room and it sounded the obvious choice because this guy was my friend, a quiet, gentle person. I watched the others walking off into the darkness and they were laughing but I didn’t quite catch what they said. I was back with the med Reg and he was really insistent we drink more, got irritable when I refused but I didn’t want to because I’d hit my limit and the insistence didn’t make it so comfortable anymore. He wanted to watch a movie, and this guy was smart, this was someone we all respected, he was the god of our little kingdom. So I agree and suddenly I find his hand inside my shirt, on my breast like some sort of horror movie giant spider and I dragged it back out but it goes back down again. I take myself off to the spare room and barricade myself in, making tracks as soon as the sun rose. It was bad having to go through the situation but what was worse was realising what the guys, my friends, had been laughing about. I was really hung up on sex and didn’t have it, certainly not with anyone at work. I’d be too terrified I’d be labelled a slut. They all knew the plan and it was to get me drunk to the point I couldn’t say no, then effectively rape me. Except in their eyes, it wasn’t rape, it was just their mate having a good time.
I was a 4th year medical student at the time. A psychiatry registrar asked me for a lift in my car to go to a home visit. Agreed to drive him. He then put his hand on my thigh and left it there for the entire journey. Just froze and didn’t know what to do. On another psychiatry placement, as a medical student, another psychiatry reg kept sending me unwanted half nude photos on WhatsApp.
Just recently a very (!) senior, renowned surgeon who is also infamous (on an international scale) for being difficult to work with due to his huge ego and arrogance summoned me to a research meeting; despite inquiring, I was not told what it would be about. He and his lab tech (f) met with me and he quizzed me about a list of patients I had given him a few months before; he was obviously displeased why there were so few, and what had the in- and exclusion criteria been and what about this subgroup and what about that. Was trying to remember from the top of my head but he grew increasingly angry and was trying to use psychological warfare tactics culminating in him looking at me in disdain saying “you have to get your priorities straight – I know it’s hard, I know you have a husband and children, and I was once a junior surgeon, too. But it’s just. not. good. science!” nodding at me patronisingly. However, I was 42 yo at the time and had been a specialist registrar and then consultant for seven years already. And for more background: I had offered to and taken over this minor part of a large research project where I went through our database of patients to assemble a cohort defined by his specifications for further investigation without being directly involved (have enough of my own projects). I had already anticipated that the group size might end up being too small for what he was looking to find out and had right away made suggestions on how to increase the sample – which he told me to hold off on. I sent an email afterward stating: “Please do not ever mention my family again in any of your tirades, that is just sexist. Especially insinuating having a husband (!) might keep me from delivering good work and might not be the right “priority” for doing great science.” Never heard back from him – better for my mental health, but surely worse for my career as his kind is never challenged and allowed to terrorise others in the name of “great science” – that could be so much greater if we didn’t cater to these monstrous egos.
Multiple incidents in my career ranging from inappropriate sexual jokes, comments on my appearance, questions about my sex, inappropriate and unwanted touching. I have often been given a “heads up” from my colleagues on which consultants are known to sexually harass their juniors. This behaviour is widespread and known about.
I have only ever told one person this story but in recent years it has upset me more and more as I realise now what this was . I said nothing at the time which culturally was not a surprise. I was an anaesthetics trainee in 1997/8. The mess had all the on-call rooms within it and was very vibrant. I was confident and always v friendly to everyone and the apparent life and soul of the party. You will probably think how could I have been so stupid twice.. but here goes.. There was a trauma and orthopaedic registrar who I did a lot of on-calls with. We had a good banter and that was all it was in my eyes . One night I was on-call and had been chatting in the mess. I then had to go on an ICU transfer with a head injury and wouldn’t be back until 1-2 am. He asked me to bleep him when I got back. I said no as I would be tired and if possible would try to get some sleep (24 hr on-call). I think he had been keeping an eye out for my return as shortly after I got back and just into my bed he bleeped me. He asked me to pop to his on-call room (opposite). Thinking nothing of it I went over. He was in bed and patted on the bed for me to sit down. He then tried to kiss me and appalled I refused his advances and said no. He then accused me of leading him on. I left and locked my room. This behaviour of bleeping me continued and I was on labour ward a short while later. He kept bleeping me and I told the obs registrar the situation. The next time he bleeped the obs reg answered and told him to FO and that he was my boyfriend. I was never bothered again. The obs registrar and I were also friends. He was a widower. He asked me out for dinner and I accepted. We started a sexual consensual relationship. He also knew I was vulnerable and had recently broken up with a long time partner . The widower story made me feel he was a safe person. He never invited me to his home but he lived further away. I didn’t think anything of it. The gynae consultants said she was surprised I would have an affair. She then told me an outpatient’s husband had punched him in clinic as he was also having sex with his wife at the same time as I thought we were in a relationship. Apparently everyone thought I was a big of a goer / whore . She then told me that he was engaged to a fellow doctor and the widower story whilst true was a guise to make me feel sorry for him and to make me trust him. And he did this knowing what had happened to the orthopaedic reg. I was horrified and then blocked it from my mind for decades.
There is a consultant that I work with who has made so many comments about how “women shouldn’t be doctors”. He is an educational supervisor. This just makes no sense to me. He is definitely a member of the “old boy’s club”, and he gets away with so many derogatory comments about women. I’ve heard female consultants just say that that’s “just how he is”. I understand that you cannot change everyone’s mind about these things, but you can definitely report him and make him do some form of training at least! I know so many trainees who have complained about him, and that the seniors in the department know what he is like.
The recent reports about sexual harassment of female surgeons brought back bad memories for me. I was a staff nurse in a surgical ward in the early 1990’s, having qualified 2 years previously. I had, recently, become engaged to my now husband. My GP had referred me to one of the consultant surgeons as I had developed a breast lump. Previously, I’d had breast lumps removed by this surgeon so I had complete faith in him. He had also informed me, previously, that he had studied at university with a close family member of mine. He was a married man with children. During one of my shifts, the surgeon approached me as he had received my GP‘s referral. He requested to examine me and, because I trusted him, I consented. There was no offer of a female chaperone (therefore, no witness). I was led into an empty examination room and he proceeded to examine my breasts, very thoroughly. Then he proceeded to examine the lymph nodes in my groins as he said he was concerned I may have an infection. During this examination, he pressed himself against me and I felt him go hard. His breathing became heavy and rapid and I just froze. On leaving the room, I felt violated and unable to speak to anyone of what had just happened so I carried on with my shift. Who would believe me anyway? It would have been my word against the word of this powerful man. With hindsight, I should have insisted on having a female chaperone but I trusted this man. I was, and still am, a practising nurse and I was also this surgeon’s patient. The only person I felt able to talk to about the incident was my husband, and that was a long time after it had happened. Recent reports also reminded me of an incident I experienced at a prestigious university where I completed a degree not related to health care, after I had left school. At a one-to-one tutorial with a mature, renowned, married professor with children, the first thing he said to me was that I should wear a belt with my jeans as it made me look easy. I have found it cathartic to relate these incidents, albeit anonymously. A can of worms has been opened by recent reports, and rightly so. Hopefully, your campaign to expose abuses of power will result in workplaces becoming safer places. All the best for your continuing good work.
I am a GP partner now. 11 years ago I started my GP training (female age approx 23). I moved area to a new area for my training. I was placed in a rural practice with a male GP trainer. He was 30 years older than me – he was the partner of the practice I was assigned to for my three year placement and also my GP educational and clinical supervisor. He made comments constantly about my appearance , how I looked – e.g. “you look like princess Leah”. “Look at your lipstick” (even though I never wore make up). He invited me to his house for lunch during home visits – he made comments throughout this time in his house that “what will his wife think of me in his house and him with lipstick around his collar” comments about us “having an affair”. This WAS NOT the case. He would ask intimate questions about my relationship with my boyfriend. At age 23 I felt very uncomfortable and did not feel able to approach him directly about how I felt. I approached my training scheme with all these concerns and they sadly asked me to put up with it and learn how to cope with his personality. I said I didn’t felt comfortable – they suggested my only way forward is to approach him about how I felt. Anyway unfortunately it was not handled well – I did make a complaint higher up and got support from BMA. I had to sign a silencing clause as I was viewed as a whistle blower and I was not supported at all. I was close to leaving the region but I have remained in the area but I still now find this very uncomfortable. I am now a GP partner in a close neighbouring surgery. I was not supported and I still fear bumping into him in meetings or events.
I was an SHO working in orthopaedics. The male nurse practitioner described me as the “shaggable one” in a fully staffed theatre including to consultant surgeon. No one batted an eye lid.
When I was 26 years of age I was a night sister in a London hospital. At my medical with occupational health, before starting, there was just one elderly male doctor. He told me I was a big healthy girl. He was smirking and seemed to want to provoke a reaction. Months later, I went to occupational health as I was depressed and anxious, partly because of recent events. Again, only he was there. He told me You’re a big girl now, and that I must accept the consequences of my actions. You would have thought I was a naughty school girl, not a young woman struggling with my first sister level post. Would he have spoken like that to a young man? 4 years later I was working as a health visitor. I had a planned pregnancy and was happy . The other health visitor seemed to be envious of me and was personally and professionally belittling to me . It was bullying and also had a sexual element, in that pregnancy was treated as a reason to marginalise and demean.
I was a medical student In theatres and I was asked to put on a light cover holder which essentially needed putting on a bit like a condom. The surgeon said to me that I obviously had had plenty of practice. I told him no I am Gay and he shut up and looked very embarrassed. Another time as a GP trainee I was working with an obstetric consultant who was known to sexually harass and belittle women. He started to complain that I was a stupid GP trainee and why was he lumbered with me and that I was nice to look at so at least there was that. He used to get very physically close to me and make me uncomfortable; he only stopped when he realised I was married to a women and when I started to stand up to him for his behaviour.
I was a new registrar new to the country and he was the senior neonatologist who had given us the pep talk when we starred in his panelled office. He’d made lots of gentle jokes about me being a foreigner which I took on the chin. He was a known drunk and was generally unavailable at nights. I noticed I was on with him a lot which was a bit frightening. One night I called him for a very vulnerable birth just born who was going to need intensive care and to my surprise he came in. He joined me at the resuscitaire, squashing up behind me clearly smelling of booze. I was busy putting in all the tubes and giving instructions etc whilst he was right up behind me and it took me a while to notice as I was trying to resuscitate a baby, that he was pushing his crotch against my bottom. He was giving me useless advice etc, just enough to be involved. His breathing got heavier and I thought ‘oh, that’s odd, he should have caught his breath by now after running’. There’s not much space so it would have ‘passed’ to the others that he was that close and anyway their eyes were on the baby. Then the penny dropped in my head that he was frotting me. I moved sharply to the side and we then all took the baby off to NICU. Then a week later it happened again. I can still smell his breath on my neck. He pressed harder but the resus was shorter. Thank god. I felt confused and questioned myself; was I sure that’s what it was? I asked friends who were embarrassed and didn’t really want to get too involved but swapped the rota around at the last minute so he was never on with me again. I took it to the head of NICU who was a matron. She didn’t want a formal meeting. She sort of listened then said ‘oh, he does like his blondes!’ Then laughed. That was that. I was floored. I panicked. I didn’t feel I could go to anyone else. I had no ‘proof’ did I and I was surrounded by people! But I knew what I’d felt. And the blondes thing confirmed to me it had probably happened before. I just all went weird and quiet around me from then. I felt so grubby and used. I might as well have been a sex doll to him right there. I felt like a used tissue. And talk about a clinical risk! He was hopeless anyway but I could have actively harmed those babies. He was sacked about 6 months later as he was caught drunk driving. I don’t know the details. Everyone was weirdly quiet about that too. That’s the thing, the silence. I felt like collateral in his imploding glorious career. My wellbeing wasn’t important. It felt so lonely and I felt right there what I suspected that I was seen as a second class doctor, part of someone else’s career story. And the fact I was a woman, sex was what I was there for, not as a colleague. I thought I was the same as the men but I never was.
When I was a newly-qualified FY1, I worked under a consultant who had a reputation for being a bit of a pervert. I remember my (male) SHO telling me, before I met the consultant, that he “likes to tell rude stories”, and just to try to ignore him. That he was nearing retirement, that he was “old school”. Ward rounds would be filled with him telling lewd stories about things he had done, that seemed intentionally designed to shock me, to make me feel uncomfortable. Nobody ever said anything to him about this, and he seemed to enjoy my discomfort. As the FY1, I wrote the notes on the ward round, leaning on the notes trolley. If he had finished with a particular patient, and I hadn’t immediately finished writing the notes, he used to shove the notes trolley (and the wooden shelf I was writing on) into my abdomen. Again, nobody ever said anything to him; not the male SHO, or the male registrar, and I didn’t feel that I could. He was too senior, and had too much power.
I had an issue with a male member of staff in our department. One day he snuck up behind me and jabbed his fingers into my ribs making me jump and a short while later smacked my bum as I left the department for my lunch. The response from the trust was nothing short of abysmal. I’ve had dismissive comments from my manager, huge delays from most of the areas involved which has led to months of stress, CCTV capturing the incident being lost and the male member of staff in question leaving the trust for a new job. Before he left he was overheard joking about getting reported for sexual harassment and being able to get away with it because he was leaving and threatened to do it more. I’ve reported this to the NMC as he is a registered nurse, but the NMC seem to be facing their own huge delays and have gone silent. All I wanted to do was tell the truth, hold him accountable and try to keep other women safe but throughout this whole process I’ve been pushed back time and time again.