The healthcare system is facing a second crisis. The Covid pandemic has demonstrated its infrastructure and personnel levels leave much to be desired. However, another problem lurks behind the scenes, one that not many people in the sector are willing to address. Sexual harassment is a growing problem of endemic proportions, leaving a stream of victims in its wake.
The healthcare industry seems to have created a haven for acts of sexual harassment, with perpetrators facing few, if any, consequences. Here is what you need to know about it.
Many people are at their most vulnerable when they visit a healthcare professional or institution. Predators take advantage of this and perpetrate illegal acts against them, according to sexual harassment attorneys listed in the USAttorneys database. The healthcare system has become a safe place for these offenders to hide as they have easy access to victims and face no real repercussions.
Medical professionals are so well-respected and held in high esteem by society that people do not want to believe that they could be guilty of sexual harassment. After all, they study for many years and carry responsibility for their patients’ lives. How could someone so noble stoop to sexual harassment? The unfortunate reality is that it happens more often than most people think.
A system enabling sexual harassment
The healthcare system has three factors that make it fertile ground for sexual harassment: a strict hierarchal structure, male-dominated staffing, and a climate that tolerates inappropriate behavior. The hierarchy means that sexual harassment claims go through multiple layers of bureaucracy before being dealt with, and many cases get lost along the way.
An overwhelming majority of sexual harassment cases are perpetrated by males, part of a legacy of patriarchal societal structures. For years, medicine was a career field that few women pursued, being told that it was a ‘man’s job’ better left to men, the more capable sex.
While more and more women are becoming doctors, the men doing so continue to outnumber them. Weak sexual harassment policies and institutional structures covering predators make healthcare employees and patients vulnerable to sexual harassment.
Experts predict that the number of unreported sexual harassment cases in the healthcare system greatly outnumbers those that victims dare to come forward with. Sexual harassment victims are afraid to come forward, knowing that bringing a case to a conclusion could be more traumatic than what happened. They must tell their story multiple times, often to a skeptical audience reluctant to act against esteemed healthcare professionals.
This lack of reporting and the number of cases dismissed without proper investigation make it impossible to provide a qualitative and quantitative assessment of healthcare sexual harassment incidents.
The other side
While many healthcare professionals are sexual harassment perpetrators, some are victims. Female healthcare professionals are often preyed on by superiors, colleagues, and patients.
Many do not report these events, fearing it will ruin their professional reputation. People rely on their reputations to garner respect in the medical community, and reporting sexual harassment could make them appear weak.
Given heightened awareness about sexual harassment in the healthcare systems, institutions and organizations are using more robust policies to combat it. The MeToo movement highlighted a need for platforms where victims can report sexual harassment.
Better procedures mean those investigations are taken seriously and subjected to more scrutiny. The rate of successful outcomes where sexual harassers experience punitive measures increases and people feel freer to come forward and report incidents. This has put healthcare workers on notice that their bad behavior will not be tolerated, and they cannot hide behind their qualifications and reputations.