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 3 of 14
When a junior doctor I was spending my hard earned cash on private pilot lessons. After a year and before I could fly solo I had to have a medical. This has to be undertaken by approved people and paid for. I sought someone out on the internet with the aviation health credentials (a GP in Chester) and had the assessment. He did not offer a chaperone and asked me to strip my top half to do a breast exam. I thought a bit weird but maybe this was a necessary screen as part of the medical?(it was just plausible enough) after he gave me a wink and said he would discount the cost of the medical as I was doctor. Felt a bit weirded out and when I spoke to my friend (we were learning to fly together) a breast exam did not form part of her assessment with a different doctor! This was 20 years ago and I never reported him.
As a student I was placed on a ward for patients with early onset dementia. On my first day I was taken to be ‘introduced’ to the sexually inappropriate patient. My mentor asked him what he thought of me and he replied inappropriately. The patient later grabbed my breast.
I was too scared to report the ward to my university but really wish I had.
I am an intensive care trainee. The head of one of the surgical departments came to our unit late one evening to hand over his last case. The surgeon recognised me, came over to say hello and pinched my bottom as he moved to greet me. He said ‘oh sorry’, not looking at all sorry, and I regret to say I laughed nervously and said it was ok. He then proceeded to put his arm around me and explain in condescending language whatever it was he wanted to say about his patient, calling me ‘sweetheart’ etc. My boss and another senior male doctor looked on and said nothing. I was so mad at myself later for not figuring out how to stand up to him at the time, though even now I struggle to know how I could have done so without jeopardising my career.
I’ve been working in the NHS for over 30 years and have had several experiences . The first was as a student nurse on a men’s surgical ward where several patients exposed themselves to me and I actually had to physically fight a couple of them off. I’ve also had experiences with male staff members, one a nurse and 2 senior doctors who made sexual remarks. One even tried to kiss me when I was on my own in the coffee room and referred to me as ” the blonde bimbo” in front of other staff. I was later told ” he had a thing for blondes” it just seemed to be accepted. Another made sure I was the last one he dropped off after a work night out with lots of colleagues before propositioning me in his car. He was married with a baby which disgusted me even more. I got out of there as fast as I could. It never occurred to me to even report any of these incidents because it just wasn’t the culture to do that and I don’t think anything would have happened if I had.
As a medical student I was observing in theatre. A member of the theatre team made a comment about my figure, grabbed me round the waist and later touched my chest. All the senior team were there and no one said anything.
Later, when I was a foundation doctor on a surgical ward, one of the registrars kept trying to get me to go for coffee with him, he could not take the hint it was a no. I dreaded working with him in case he mentioned it again.
I didn’t pursue a surgical career.
I am near the end of my career in general practice I qualified in 1985. I was a bit more street wise than some on entering med school. As a medical house officer (remember them) my consultant demanded that I “let him show off his new car” . In the car he immediately reclined the seats to flat. I told him it made me feel sick and he realised I was on to him. The same man turned up in my room in the residences with a bottle of champagne at Christmas. I said how lovely and got my colleague to join us asap. In hindsight this was a very creepy and predatory.
My year has recently done a where are we now book of reminiscences including “what was the worst thing about house jobs”. Just like this campaign it uncovered vile and predatory behaviour from seniors from verbal comments to rape. I feel a bit ashamed that we didn’t speak up sooner to support each other and help those who came after us. My son’s partner is a junior Dr who has had a nasty experience and had the courage to report and was supported so, well done her and perhaps things are slowly changing
When I was an F1 in orthopaedics, one of the senior registrars used to steer me around ward round by my hips / bottom. He added me on social media and would ask me why I hadn’t accepted everyday until I did. The conditions working there were generally horrendous and made me so stressed I started vomiting at work. 7 years later I am still grateful that placement is over.
“She very quickly found her way to stardom in WAST. I bet that’s what grinding on the right cocks will do”
Hearing comments like this regularly, from someone in a ‘leadership’ role. So, so tiring.
I was a third year medical student at the time and the registrar assigned to my group for weekly bedside teaching told me I was beautiful and clever and got me to do things like central lines with him standing behind me to guide my hands. He also persuaded me to sneak into the closed cardiology labs on a weekend so he could do an echo on me, and took me out for breakfast afterwards.
At the time I thought he was wonderful but my friends intervened and made me cease contact. He was married with children.
I worked on the acute stroke unit. Whilst it was a culture of its own, there was an individual who was Portuguese, and on the flirt offence. It felt very targeted and was at times sexually aggressive. He sought to belittle me and to chip away at my self esteem – remarks such as ; “you’re not as intelligent as you think you are,” out of the blue, to try to undermine me. He’d do my share of jobs without my request or permission, to disempower me, and the touching. Touch me on the arm and shoulder, my ear, my neck, the cheek.
I simply didn’t know how to react, so often I just froze and tried to walk away. I hated it. I did my best to defend myself and to avoid him. I began by trying to flirt back which wasn’t the right approach and only fuelled it. I tried to be kind and to understand what was driving the unhappiness but that didn’t work either. I felt really disempowered and uncomfortable.
Unfortunately another Portuguese nurse joined and looked to him for exemplary behaviour, he too took to this tactic of laughing at and knocking confidence to then make sexualised comments about my height, size and appearance. The comments about my eyes, what my love life was like. It felt relentless. I felt followed. I felt uncomfortable working alongside him. There was no normal conversation and if there was it was about how unhappy he was but didn’t know what to do with his life. Obviously depressed and taking it out in unhealthy ways.
I didn’t know how to ‘fight’ back. I gave up in the end, alongside a lot of other bullying on that ward from unhappy staff members. It felt such a relief to walk away. Reading this back, I see I tried my best to defend myself and to help the individual, what I now realise is that I shouldn’t have to help or had to do this. Simply calling out sexually inappropriate behaviour is enough and although it’s not easy, it begins there.
Next time I see him (he’s been relocated), I would like to explain to him how his behaviour left me feeling and see how he feels about that now. I felt angry, cornered, trapped, taken advantage of, upset and frightened. I think it might do him a favour too to learn how his behaviour is being perceived. Continually showing off about how his way was ‘best’ and being too intimidate with certain patients.
Not for me thanks. It was not good.
My story is an old story that I have been reminded off, as a student nurse on placement in theatres in the late eighties the consultant who had just performed the surgery I was there to observe took me by the waist bent me over and smacked my bottom in front of all the theatre staff. Not one person mentioned it to me or said anything at the time or afterwards, I was mortified and my cheeks were burning under my mask. Years later I discovered it was considered normal for him it was never discussed just accepted.
I started my last placement of 1st year in mental health nursing on a ward. On my second day, I was shadowing an HCA. He was a helpful and first and I was learning. He then started making sexual comments towards me. As the day went on things got worse and worse. On multiple occasions he trapped me in store rooms and touched my groin area. On our second break, I told him I was getting something to eat, got my bag, and ran off the ward as fast as I could, I couldn’t take it anymore.
I became aware of sexism in surgery when I ran a webinar on bullying and undermining for muslim women in the NHS. Many female doctors and medical students reported being hounded out of theatre because they wear hijab and being denied training opportunities.
Daily harassment with expectations of differing dress codes sometimes in theatres within the SAME trust. A lack of suitable accommodations which was leading to women across the UK choosing primary care over careers in surgery.
We don’t have a problem providing orthopaedic hoods to a largely male workforce yet providing hijabs appears to be problematic and rare.
We published national research in the BMJ Open to highlight the magnitude of the issue and whilst the BMA were very supportive many national organisations did little to address the problem.
I still get rung by women who are off sick with anxiety and depression due to gendered islamophobia in the workplace.
It’s just not good enough- the NHS must do more to retain highly skilled diverse women in surgical careers. The solutions are simple (such as surgical hijabs) and other sectors such as law and sports industry have adopted diverse dress codes. The NHS must adopt a national procurement process that includes diverse dress codes.
For more information on our work and solutions go to the British Islamic Medical Association website (opens in a new tab/window).
A patient had been released from prison 1 and a half hours previously.
Came in as a priority call into resus. Patient was intoxicated and unresponsive due to opiate activity. Patient had naloxone given by myself. I’m an Emergency nurse and was assigned to look after the patient. After the naloxone, the patient became more aware, GCS 15/15.
The patient groped my bottom and straddled himself against it. The patient also exposed themselves. The patient then punched me in the abdomen and grabbed and groped my left breast.
I felt dirty and violated.
I saw this through all the way to the end, the patient received a 24 week sentence for sexual assault, 24 weeks for physical assault and 4 weeks for aggravated indecent exposure.
Of course this was suspended for two years. I received no help from the legal team (did not know that they existed).
Today another sexual assault occurred, so I have to go through this all again now.
In response to the report of a sexual harassment incident perpetrated by a Staff Nurse (male) against a colleague (female), the ward manager failed to act immediately.
When HR were informed, the incident was renamed as misconduct (any reference to sexual harassment was discouraged by HR and managers).
Furthermore, the victim (female) was subjected to being questioned by a senior clinical practitioner (female) assigned by HR, who (off the interview record) asked the victim what they had been wearing at the time they were sexually harassed.
The final response was to blame the victim – citing their clothing as being inappropriate. The incident was escalated to ward managers, HR managers and even the executive board, but was ultimately brushed under the carpet by blaming the victim for dressing inappropriately.
This was subsequently reported to NHS whistleblowers and NHS Quality Care Commission.