Culture of impunity for NHS staff accused of sexual violence, say campaigners

There is a culture of impunity surrounding sexual violence by healthcare workers in the NHS, with known perpetrators going unchallenged, campaigners have warned.

A report from Survival in Scrubsa group of female doctors campaigning against misogyny in healthcare say staff known to be perpetrators of sexual violence, usually senior male doctors, are tolerated or considered untouchable.

The study, which analyzed 174 incidents of sexism, sexual harassment and assault within staff have anonymously self-reported to the group’s websitefound that those who had been abused – especially young female doctors – struggled to get their complaints addressed.

Some women said they were threatened with reprisals by those they accused. They reported feeling abandoned by colleagues who they said remained silent and in some cases colluded with the perpetrator.

One woman called a perpetrator the ‘Jimmy Savile of the surgical community’ and was told by an older female colleague that ‘he was known for this behaviour, which he had gotten away with before and was able to botch the operation. careers”.

Of the 209 incidents reported to Surviving in Scrubs since its launch last summer, just over 42% (89) involved sexual harassment, a fifth (43) involved sexual violence, almost 2% involved rape and almost 37% (77) involved sexist incidents. behaviour. Some incidents were recorded in more than one category.

More than three-quarters of the alleged perpetrators were doctors, of whom more than 77% were consultants. Of the remainder, just over 7% were nurses and more than 5% were managers.

About 62% of the victims were doctors, while almost 12% were medical, nursing and paramedical students. Of the physicians who disclosed their rank, the vast majority were junior (89%).

Of the incidents where the location was disclosed, half took place in hospital wards, operating theaters and clinics, which the report’s authors also said raised concerns about the sexual safety of patients.

In one case, a female doctor described how, after a difficult forceps delivery of a baby she was assisting, a consultant, covered in the patient’s blood, suggested they shower together.

Another consultant in obstetrics and gynecology is said to have stopped operations on women to ask medical students what the purpose of a vagina was “until he got the answer he wanted – that their only purpose was sex”.

Dr. Becky Cox, co-founder of Surviving in Scrubs, said a culture of sexism and sexual abuse has been normalized within the NHS.

“When you (a woman) come into this profession, you see senior male advisors who are derogatory, use sexist language and attack you. Male medical students see this behavior and consider it normal. Then they move up and continue the behavior. It’s a cycle that never ends.”

Dr. Becky Cox from Surviving in Scrubs said a culture of sexism and sexual abuse has been normalized within the NHS. Photo: Handout

NHS trusts, regulators and professional bodies failed to hold perpetrators to account, she added.

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Cox said: “The women who submitted their stories to us tried to voice their concerns and failed and failed and failed. It is the system that is failing because it is not listening to them.”

The report recommends an independent investigation into the culture of sexism and sexual misconduct in healthcare.

It calls for an independent anonymous reporting system within the NHS to tackle under-reporting of incidents, as highlighted by a Guardian investigation earlier this year.

The campaigners want to make it mandatory for NHS trusts to report sexual harassment and assault to health regulators.

Dr. Latifa Patel, head of equality at BMA, said the report’s findings were shocking. “(It) includes cases of sexual violence and harassment that have occurred without consequences for the perpetrators, and has highlighted the barriers that exist to addressing these incidents and how health care environments and structures can enable this behavior.”

She added that the BMA would consider the bills to ensure it does everything possible to support doctors who experience sexism and sexual misconduct.

Information and support for anyone affected by rape or sexual abuse is available from the following organisations. In the United Kingdom, Rape crisis provides support on 0808 500 2222 in England and Wales, 0808 801 0302 in Scotlandor 0800 0246 991 Northern Ireland. In the U.S, Rain offers support at 800-656-4673. In Australia, support is available at 1800Respect (1800 737 732). Other international helplines can be found at