One of the biggest topics in the media today isn’t related to politics, natural disasters, or mass shootings. It is something far more common and pervasive, and is finally getting the attention and serious response that it deserves. It’s the topic of sexual harassment.
For the past few months now, dozens of powerful men in the media, political sphere, and entertainment industry have been exposed for their past violent behaviors. This has led to many of these men being (rightfully) ousted from their industry thanks to the brave women and men who have shared their stories. As well as the talented journalists who were able to research the claims and put them into words.
Since sexual harassment is on everybody’s mind, it’s possibly the best time to discuss how sexual harassment can affect every field — including the medical and nursing industry. Unfortunately inappropriate behavior or comments are extremely prevalent, and nurses can be faced with this issue from multiple sources — anywhere from coworkers to patients.
One lengthy study from 1994 looked at how sexual harassment can affect the work of nurses across all fields, and exposed how prevalent the issue is for all nurses. The study noted that nurses experienced sexual harassment mostly in the form of sexual remarks, but could also experience inappropriate touching and assault. Female nurses were commonly the most targeted, but male nurses also experienced unwanted comments or assault from patients.
Additionally, this study stated: “Sexual harassment of nurses seriously affects nursing performance and productivity.” Overall, being the target of harassment or assault could cause nurses to experience severe burnout, as well as a host of other emotional trauma that could affect their work.
However, nurses (or victims of any sort) don’t have to live in shame for experiencing assault or harassment. Here are some general guidelines to help you navigate harassment while on the job as a travel nurse. If you have additional questions, you should consult with your onsite manager for any specific recommendations on how to handle complaints at your current location.
Harassment From Patients
Sexual harassment from patients happens often, and it doesn’t take much searching online to find stories of nursing students and professionals who have had to sidestep a groping hand or ask to avoid a patient’s room altogether. Hopefully you’re working with a manager who will work with your needs as well as act as an advocate for you. Successful nursing managers should be able to create the safest environment possible for both you and for patients, which means harassment claims should be taken seriously.
If you find that a patient is being predatory or making unwelcome comments at you, notify your manager immediately. They have the ability to assign new nurses to that patient, or can even set up a buddy system so you never have to be alone with the offender in their room. Most importantly, your manager should be aware of all cases of harassment so they can document and track the issues to avoid any backlash or lawsuits.
Additionally, you should set boundaries early on if a patient is making unwanted comments or jokes. You can inform the patient that the behavior cannot continue, and can explain to them that you will notify your manager and will have another nurse (perhaps a nurse of the opposite sex) tend to them.
If harassment persists, or other nurses come forward with complaints, the nursing manager can decide what the best course of action should be for the safety of her staff and the patient — whether that is seeking out police involvement or suggesting another hospital or health clinic.
Harassment From Superiors or Coworkers
Unfortunately, harassment can also come from inside the office. Nurses not only have to worry about harassment from patients, but also have to be wary of harassment from their superiors and coworkers. Unlike patients — which come and go, and you might never have to see again — coworkers are people you have to see almost every day at work.
In many cases of sexual harassment (and as could be seen in the exposure of powerful men in Hollywood such as Harvey Weinstein), there is always an underlying power structure that is used to both entrap and silence victims of abuse. This is why sexual harassment in any workplace can be so tricky to confront. Often times, victims of harassment fear they will lose their job if they speak up. The same goes for nurses. There is an underlying fear that if they report the abuse, they will face harsh backlash from their superiors and could potentially lose their jobs.
However, harassment in any form should not be tolerated in a safe working environment. If you ever experience inappropriate behavior or language at your office. It should immediately be reported to either your supervisor, the human resources manager on site, or your travel nurse recruiter. Leaders with your hospital should be consistent in how they address sexual harassment, and should handle all concerns promptly and seriously.
Unfortunately, not all offices will take complaints as seriously as they deserve. But bringing light to the issue can be the first step in raising awareness. If you find the hospital staff will not listen to you, it’s possible that you travel nursing recruiter can reassign you to a new location.
Additionally, document in writing all cases of inappropriate behavior for your own records. This way (if legal action does occur) you can have a record of everything the perpetrator did or said to you. And all you did or said in response to prevent it from continuing.
If the harassment continues, or you do experience backlash, know that there are laws that can protect you. You can read more about your rights on the US Department of State’s website.
Finally, seek out support from those you trust to help you through this difficult time. And remember that none of it is your fault.
Building a Safer Future Through Awareness
As powerful men continue to be unmasked as predators in the media, it is very possible that we will begin to see a change in American culture on how sexual harassment is treated. One can only hope that victims will continue to be believed over their abusers. And that society will slowly phase out harmful behavior and rhetoric.
It might take some time before that cultural shift makes its way into the office, but it will happen someday. For now, bringing awareness to inappropriate situations and addressing harassment directly and unapologetically will help create a safer space for everyone: nurses and patients alike.