The majority of female surgeons in England’s public hospitals have experienced sexual harassment, with many saying they were assaulted and some even raped, a survey of hundreds of staff members has revealed.
Sexual misconduct was so widely reported in the survey that lawmakers have announced they will investigate the issue. Meanwhile, industry leaders have called on hospitals to review their policies to protect their staff.
Nearly two-thirds of female surgeons (63%) said they have been sexually harassed by colleagues at some point in the past five years, according to the study published Tuesday. British Journal of Surgery revealed.
Just under a third (29%) reported being sexually harassed, while 0.8% said they were raped in the workplace or in the context of work during this period.
Men also reported significant levels of sexual abuse, but at much lower rates than women. About a quarter said they were sexually harassed, 7% reported being sexually assaulted and 0.1% said they were raped by a co-worker.
Women have experienced higher rates of sexual misconduct in the work context than men. Fewer people said they believed that the industry bodies representing them and the hospitals where they worked could adequately handle sexual misconduct claims.
“These findings suggest that women and men are living different realities in the surgical workforce,” the study authors said. “For women, being around coworkers often means witnessing and becoming the target of sexual misconduct.”
Female surgeons revealed specific allegations of sexual misconduct to BBC News, including being touched inappropriately in the operating theater and being propositioned for sex at work parties.
One woman told the outlet that a senior surgeon wiped sweat from her forehead onto her cleavage twice during a procedure, despite her offering him a towel. The incident, which he said occurred early in his career, left him feeling “dirty” and “humiliated”.
Retired surgeon Liz O’Riordan said she was harassed several times at work.
She told BBC News: “There were times when I wanted to speak up but as a trainee surgeon your career depends on whether that man or woman bothers you, lets you operate, gives you time to operate Says you’ve reached all competencies.”
Steve Brine, Member of Parliament and Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, called bjs A statement said the survey’s revelations were “shocking” and said the National Health Service “has a duty to ensure that hospitals are safe places for all staff to work.”
He said the committee would investigate sexual misconduct as part of a wider inquiry into leadership in the NHS.
Industry leaders have expressed disappointment at the revelations, with Tim Mitchell, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, calling it “incredibly disturbing”.
He said in a statement: “While we have chosen careers in surgery to save lives, it is incredibly disappointing to know that the lives of so many of our colleagues have been deeply affected by this disgusting behaviour, and in some cases destroyed. It is done.”
He said there was “no place” for sexual misconduct in operating theaters or indeed anywhere in the public health service.
Public hospitals, he said, “need to take a long, hard look at whether their policies and procedures for sexual misconduct are fit for purpose, as do regulatory bodies.”