A recent study reveals shocking numbers of sexual assault and harassment in the UK’s surgical field, marking what some are calling a “MeToo moment” for the medical community.
The study suggests that urgent action is needed to change the culture in healthcare and make it a safe space for everyone.
According to a study published in the British Journal of Surgery, almost one-third of female surgeons in the UK reported experiencing sexual assault by a colleague in the past five years.
The study analyzed responses from over 1,400 members of the UK surgical workforce through an anonymous online survey.
It found that 29.9% of women and 6.9% of men said they had been sexually assaulted by a colleague during that period.
The survey also indicated that sexual harassment is widespread, with 63.3% of women and 23.7% of men saying they had been harassed by colleagues.
The study pointed out that men and women in the surgical field are “living different realities,” where women are more often targets and witnesses of sexual misconduct.
Seeing but Not Speaking
What’s even more troubling is that the harassment and assault aren’t hidden; they’re often happening in plain sight.
Close to 90% of women and 81% of men reported witnessing sexual harassment among colleagues over the same five-year span.
Instances of rape were not just confined to the workplace; they were reported in teaching spaces, conferences, and social events with colleagues as well.
Additionally, almost 11% of women reported experiencing “forced physical contact linked to career opportunities.”
The Root Causes
The study attributed the prevalence of sexual misconduct to a deeply rooted hierarchical structure within the surgical field, along with an imbalance of gender and power.
Tamzin Cuming, chair of the Women in Surgery Forum at the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said that this study “represents a MeToo moment for surgery.” She stressed that it is high time for significant changes to be made in the culture of healthcare.
Next Steps: The Call for Change
This study was commissioned by a group called The Working Party on Sexual Misconduct in Surgery, which consists of NHS surgeons, clinicians, and researchers.
Their mission is to raise awareness of this severe issue and to promote change within the organization. Tamzin Cuming concluded that “now the real work has to start to bring about a profound change in the culture of healthcare.”
It’s clear that the UK’s surgical field has a severe problem with sexual harassment and assault, disproportionately affecting female surgeons.
Immediate steps need to be taken to ensure the safety of all healthcare workers, and it is essential to get to the root of this systemic issue to bring about lasting change.
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The research findings can be found in the British Journal of Surgery.
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