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Sexual Assault in Healthcare

written by Erin Garwood, M.A.

Over the last few years, movements such as MeToo and TimesUp have aimed to spotlight the ongoing problem of sexual assault and harassment. April is national sexual assault awareness month and this article will focus specifically on sexual assault and harassment in the medical and health care professions. Sexual assault within these systems is pervasive and often underreported or not reported at all. Due, at least in part to this, the research on this topic is often not representative of the whole problem. Sexual harassment is often perpetrated against people who identify as a female, women, and/or transgender and as such the research mostly looks at these groups. Transgender women and BIPOC women experience significantly increased rates of sexual assault, yet are not as represented in research studies. It is important to note that sexual harassment and assault can happen to anyone of any identity.

 

The healthcare field presents a unique structure and dynamic that may increase the occurrence of sexual harassment and assault. In one study, up to half of the female medical students reported sexual harassment by faculty or staff before graduating from medical school.  Sexual assault has been found to be most pervasive in systems that are hierarchical, led predominately by males, and in which the culture fosters transgressions made by those in power. These factors contribute to the highly discriminatory culture that exists in many healthcare settings.

 

Harassment can take the form of overt sexual comments as well as disparaging remarks that are aimed at making people feel uncomfortable or unwelcome. Experiencing harassment and assault can have devastating and long lasting effects on the individual and the overall system. For many, this can result in a range of outcomes from missing classes and professional meetings, withdrawing from research projects, or leaving jobs and careers all together. These outcomes can impact a person’s mental health, sense of safety at work, job satisfaction, and overall turnover rate within the organization. Also, for many this experience can serve to further perpetuate the gender pay gap by limiting women’s access to equitable and safe working environments.

 

Understanding how the healthcare system can further the culture allowing for sexual assault and harassment can feel overwhelming and discouraging. It is imperative for those in this position to feel validated and supported. The following list includes some great resources for both those who have experienced sexual harassment and assault and those who can provide support to others.  

 

For those who have experienced:

 

HSC Student Counseling Office                                            Call 800.656.HOPE (4673)

Call 405-271-7336 

email us at counselors@oushc.edu

 

https://www.rainn.org/about-national-sexual-assault-telephone-hotline

https://metoomvmt.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/MeToo-COVID-Response_TOOLKIT.pdf

https://students.ouhsc.edu/Current-Students/Student-Wellbeing/Sexual-Misconduct/Resources

 

For those providing support to others:

 

https://metoomvmt.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/MeToo-COVID-Response_TOOLKIT.pdf

https://www.rainn.org/articles/tips-talking-survivors-sexual-assault

 

Please visit for more resources:

https://students.ouhsc.edu/Current-Students/Student-Wellbeing/Sexual-Misconduct/Resources

https://timesupfoundation.org/work/times-up-healthcare/