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sexual assault in surgery - Times

11 replies

vivariumvivariumsvivaria · 17/01/2022 13:28

Very depressing article by Kat Lay about sexual assault and harassment in surgery.

Sexism is inescapable, even for women who train as surgeons.


Do you remember there was a furore about medics teaching vaginal examinations on unconsenting unconscious women in operating theatres? I guess it makes more sense to me now. Men don't see women as people, even if they are colleagues and the men are "safe" to work with vulnerable people.

OP posts:

CuriousaboutSamphire · 17/01/2022 16:18


No workplace is safe from the arrogance and sexual hunger of men.


VelvetChairGirl · 17/01/2022 17:03

Its behind a paywall cant see


SDTGisAnEvilWolefGenius · 17/01/2022 17:30

Here’s the full article, @VelvetChairGirl

As Philippa Jackson, a surgeon, prepared with colleagues for an emergency operation, one helped tie her theatre gown.
He leaned in and told her that consenting to him tying her gown meant she consented to tying her up however he liked — before kissing the nape of her neck. It was part of a pattern of sexual harassment and assault, that earlier the same day had seen him comment on her breasts and rub his erection on her thigh.

When Jackson reported the event, she says that she received little support and no consequences for the culprit.

Her story is one of several being shared as surgery in the UK has what is being described as its #Me Too moment in revealing how some men working in surgery take advantage of their positions to abuse female colleagues.

They have sparked such concern that health education leaders have written to trainee surgeons across the NHS to tell them: “Sexual assault and harassment have no place in society and certainly not within a professional surgical environment.”

A survey published last year of 437 UK surgical trainees found that sexual harassment was widespread, experienced by 48.8 per cent of female and 18.9 per cent of male trainees.

In almost nine out of ten cases the harassment of women came from a consultant or senior medical colleague.

Speaking on behalf of Project S — a movement to improve the safety of women working in the NHS — Kate Jarman, director of corporate affairs at Milton Keynes University Hospital, said that experiences of sexual assault and harassment in the service were not captured by annual staff surveys. She added that they were “likely to be vastly under-reported in the NHS, just as they are in wider society, because victims feel that they are unlikely to be believed, are made to feel they are somehow to blame and are shamed into silence”.

Jackson, now a consultant plastic surgeon in Bristol, told her story in The Bulletin of the Royal College of Surgeons.

She wrote: “While working as a junior doctor in one of the largest trusts in England, I was sexually assaulted by a member of the theatre team.”
She claimed that he had increased his level of physical contact with her in the preceding weeks and months. She said that she did not want to seem rude by refusing apparently kind gestures of a hug. She added that he made increasingly flirtatious comments “which again I did not make any overt effort to stop other than not responding”.

She wrote: “One morning in a corridor, when discussing a case about to go to theatre, the member of staff commented on my breasts, hugged me and rubbed his erection on my thigh. He made an inappropriate comment about his erection and then left.

“You can never know your reaction to this sort of situation but I now know it is not uncommon to do what I did, which is nothing. I got on with my work. I felt uncomfortable but patients needed treating and it was my job to be there, to work alongside him in theatre.

“In the evening on the same day, when dealing with an emergency case, that individual tied my theatre gown. As he did, he said that me giving him consent to tie my gown meant I had consented to him tying me up however he liked. Then he kissed me on the nape of my neck.”

A consultant encouraged Jackson to report what had happened. At first the matron in theatres suggested it be handled informally. When it became a formal complaint she found some colleagues started avoiding her, she said.

“My decision to report was strongly swayed by my impending departure to another part of the country,” she added. “I was satisfied that my discomfort would be shortlived.”

During the complaint process she was asked “very pointed questions about whether I had led this individual on”. It concluded that the incident was unwitnessed and could therefore not be proved “so there was no case to answer”.

She said that the experience was “an eternal disappointment to me and I believe illustrates the endemic problems within the NHS that are preventing progress”.

Simon Fleming, an orthopaedic registrar, and Becky Fisher, a general surgery trainee, wrote an academic paper on sexual assault in surgery last year. The stories have emerged in response. They said: “Surgery and surgical training have a problem with sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape. It is an uncomfortable truth but the truth nonetheless.”
They added that the small size of the surgical community “means that despite reporting abuse, a person may never be able to walk away from the experience or the community in which it happened”.

Fisher, who said that she felt she could speak out because she had not experienced sexual harassment and worked in a hospital with a good culture, told The Times that many surgeons who experienced abuse chose to “forget about it” to avoid consequences on their career which could often be “more than the injury itself”.

Another surgeon wrote to Fleming asking him to share her story anonymously, detailing how as a trainee in “a coveted training post” she became a target for her educational supervisor.

He asked her to stay in a hotel with him, warning her when she refused that “he had the power to end my career”.

In the operating theatre as she worked on patients “he would stand so close that I could feel his erection against my body”. She added: “His whispered guidance in my ear became peppered with filth. He would do this while I was examining letters and scans.To an observer it may have looked as though he was taking an interest in my work but this was far from the truth.”

Theatre nurses told her they realised what was going on but felt unable to speak up for fear of losing their jobs.

One day “he came into my clinic room at the end of the day, grabbed my hand and placed it on himself and asked me to come home with him as his family were away”, the surgeon said.

She refused, despite a further threat to destroy her career but soon afterwards her clinical director wrote to her “informing me that there were concerns about my attitude from a consultant and that a nurse had accused me of refusing to see a patient whilst on call”.

She was moved to a neighbouring department and advised: “If you want to continue your career, you need to pretend nothing has happened”.
Staff at her previous post “denied all knowledge” of sexual harassment or assault.

“Nobody wanted to know the truth,” she said. “He was allowed to continue supervising vulnerable female trainees. Over a decade later, I’m doing well professionally and personally but I have a form of PTSD.”
Dr Paul Sadler, lead dean for surgery at Health Education England (HEE), sent a letter to trainees explaining where they can seek help and describing the testimonials as “distressing for all those affected and wholly unacceptable”.

Professor Sheona MacLeod, deputy medical director at HEE, said that it was working to ensure the safety of all healthcare trainees. “The NHS must be a safe working and learning environment,” she added.

Professor Neil Mortensen, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, and Tamzin Cuming, who chairs its Women in Surgery Forum, said in a statement that they were “outraged and appalled”.

They added: “As a profession, we must strive for a culture that takes a zero tolerance approach to sexual harassment. This means all of us challenging unacceptable behaviour and reporting it. We would urge anyone who has experienced, or witnessed, any type of sexual harassment or assault in the workplace to report it to their employer and to the police.”


VelvetChairGirl · 17/01/2022 19:17



nettie434 · 18/01/2022 07:16

That article is shocking in that that the male colleague's behaviour was so flagrant, which suggests that it was not the first time it happened. The reaction of colleagues is equally worrying. I remember reading that how a person reacts to experiences of racism in the workplace is compounded by a lack of support from those around them. I wonder if this equally applies to sex discrimination, and other types of discrimination too.

The number of women registered as doctors in the NHS is almost equal to the number of men (just about 20k fewer in a workforce of 300k) but only 25% of surgeons are woman. The gap is even larger at consultant level where only 10% of consultants are woman. A lot is made of logistical factors such as unsocial hours in terms of deterring women from particular jobs in medicine - there are more women practising as GPs than men - but this suggests that we need to look at other factors like sexism and unwanted sexual advances too.


vivariumvivariumsvivaria · 18/01/2022 11:05

Especially in surgery, which is very masculine in nature. You have to have huge self confidence to take a knife to a person's body. It's an unusual woman who has that, plus the life circumstances to excel in a competitive field. If they have kids it must be a huge juggle.

I have a deep respect for female surgeons.

OP posts:

Mollysocks · 18/01/2022 11:12

I might get stuck for this comment (and maybe rightly so I’m willing to hear the opposite view) but why do so many men train to become gynaecologists, it never sits right with me. I had a male examine me and lead my treatment for endo who really really gave me the ick and I felt I couldn’t ask for a woman as it’d be sexist. Now I always ask for s woman but I was a lot younger then snd didn’t feel I had a voice.


Mollysocks · 18/01/2022 11:12

Might get stick I meant*


vivariumvivariumsvivaria · 18/01/2022 11:28

I've heard a woman who's high up in the RCOG wonder exactly the same thing, @Mollysocks.

I have never forgotten the way Adam Kay described women in his best selling book. He was disparaging about all of us, all age groups, all backgrounds. Including mumsnet!

Can't think of a female urologist. There must be some.

OP posts:

Carriemac · 18/01/2022 12:20

Adam Kay us a misogynist. I work with a lot of male gynaecologists and they are lovely , but theirs is a retired on in my village and he is a major creep.


JayAlfredPrufrock · 18/01/2022 16:24

So depressing.

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