Nearly half of the female physicians who responded to a recent survey say they have been sexually harassed at work, either verbally or physically. Of these, 60% said the culprit was a senior colleague.
The survey included 502 male and 582 female physicians in 43 medical specialties and was conducted by a senior physician at Tel Aviv’s Sourasky Medical Center (Ichilov Hospital).
Only one-fifth of the male respondents reported sexual harassment. Around half of them said female patients were the perpetrators.
One female doctor says she was fired after refusing the overtures of a more senior male doctor. Another says her harasser, also a senior physicians, told her, “You can pick up your letter of recommendation at my house this evening,” adding, “If I wouldn’t go to jail for it, I would screw you here and now.”
The survey was conducted by Prof. Alexander Greenstein, a senior urologist at Ichilov Hospital, together with the PharmQuest research company, among physicians subscribing to the doctors’ portal of Mednet, an Israeli medical portal. The average age of the respondents was 52.4 years old, with 42% working in hospitals and the rest in the community.
“We didn’t think half the female doctors would report that they had been sexually harassed, and by a senior staff member who works with them yet,” said Greenstein. “If we’re in a system in which half the female doctors have been sexually harassed − we’re in big trouble. That’s a very high percentage and we have to give some thought to it, for example how to change the attitude to things that were once not considered to be sexual harassment and today apparently are, how that affects the professional development of the victim of harassment who is liable, for example, to give up a specialization if she was harassed by a senior doctor, and more.”
Among the 47% of female doctors who reported suffering harassment, the biggest source of harassment after their superiors came from their own colleagues, with 34% reporting they had been harassed by men in their own departments and 26% by doctors in other departments. Only 18% said patients were the harassers.
Among the male doctors who reported sexual harassment, 46% implicated female patients, followed by female colleagues (29%), female doctors in other departments (21%) and patients’ relatives (17%).
Just over a quarter of the male respondents said they had been harassed by a senior department colleague, male or female. (The numbers total more than 100% because more than one answer was possible).
What does sexual harassment include? For the female respondents: verbal sexual innuendo (60%) patting (30%), being held tightly (30%), hugging (26%) or an being invitation to a date or event with sexual intentions (17%) Around 17% reported that a doctor had changed clothes in their presence.
The male doctors reported verbal innuendo ((45%, being patted or held tightly (19%) or hugged in an uncomfortable way ((12%.
Some women reported more obvious molestation, such as the doctor who recalled “a unit director who, while I was examining a girl in the room for sexual assault victims held me close from behind and whispered obscenities. Others spoke with frustration about being silenced: “I was sexually abused by a psychiatrist, and when I told the female department director she waved me off,” one woman related.
The male doctors, many of whom reported that they had been harassed by patients, reported comments such as: “How nice for me that you’re taking care of me. Maybe you’ll also take care of me after work hours?” “Don’t be afraid to touch, look, nothing will happen to you if you see a naked woman,” and “Haven’t you ever see a woman without a bra?”
Greenstein admitted he was surprised that so many male physicians said they were harassed by female patients: “That’s not in the spotlight, and we have to think, for example, about how that affects the quality of care they receive from that doctor.”
On Thursday the Israel Medical Association, in cooperation with the Israel Association of Medical Women, announced the establishment of a crisis center to aid and support both male and female physicians experiencing sexual harassment at work.
“At the crisis center every doctor who has fallen victim to sexual harassment by a patient or the medical staff will be able to receive immediately guidance as to how to act in the wake of the incident. In time of need they will receive legal assistance as well as support and accompaniment from the crisis center until the conclusion of all the procedures necessitated by the incident, as much as is required and possible and as much as they want,” said the announcement.
The phone number of the crisis center: 1-800-800-290.