A survey of more than 1,400 individuals in the UK reveals that, in the past five years, nearly a third of female surgeons reported having been sexually assaulted by a colleague and over two-thirds reported having been the target of sexual harassment.
The analysis, published in September in the British Journal of Surgery, was conducted by the University of Exeter, the University of Surrey and the Working Party on Sexual Misconduct in Surgery (WPSMS).
Authors Christopher T Begeny (University of Exeter, Exeter, UK) and colleagues detail that this observational study, paired with National Health Service (NHS) workforce population data, examined gender differences in surgical workforce members’ experiences with sexual misconduct (sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape) among colleagues in the past five years, as well as their views of the adequacy of accountable organisations in dealing with this issue.
Begeny et al share that 1,704 individuals participated in the survey, with 1,434 (51.5% women) eligible for primary weighted analysis. Weighted and unweighted analyses showed that women were “significantly more likely to report witnessing, and be a target of, sexual misconduct” compared with men, the authors report.
They continue that, among women, 63.3% reported being the target of sexual harassment versus 23.7% of men (89.5% witnessing versus 81% of men).
Additionally, Begeny and colleagues found that 29.9% of women reported having been sexually assaulted versus 6.9% of men (35.9% witnessing versus 17.1% of men), with 10.9% of women sharing they had experienced forced physical contact for career opportunities—which the authors note is a form of sexual assault—versus 0.7% of men.
Furthermore, they reveal that being raped by a colleague was reported by 0.8% of women versus 0.1% of men (1.9% witnessing versus 0.6% of men).
Finally, Begeny et al share that evaluations of organisations’ adequacy in handling sexual misconduct were “significantly lower among women than men,” ranging from a low of 15.1% for the General Medical Council to a high of 31.1% for the Royal Colleges. They note that men’s evaluations were 48.6% and 60.2%, respectively.
“Sexual misconduct in the past five years has been experienced widely, with women affected disproportionately,” the authors conclude, going on to state that “accountable organisations are not regarded as dealing adequately with the issue”.
The WPSMS have also published a report, ‘Breaking the silence: Addressing sexual misconduct in healthcare’. In it, they make a series of recommendations, including calling for independent investigations of these incidents.
Vascular Society Council responds
On 13 September, the Vascular Society for Great Britain and Ireland (VSGBI) Council responded to the findings, publishing a statement on its website.
“The Vascular Society Council would like to express our revulsion and sadness about the results of the commissioned working party report on sexual misconduct in surgery,” the statement begins. “The workplace must be a safe environment for all, with zero tolerance for unwanted, inappropriate and/or harmful sexual behaviour in the workplace.”
The statement continues: “We are pleased that this report has broken the silence on this shockingly common behaviour in surgery. Our council members are committed to working with our membership to provide support, education and leadership to highlight the effects of such destructive and demeaning behaviour and to provide colleagues effective strategies to manage it.
“Our working environments must be changed to give colleagues the confidence that these issues can be raised and effectively dealt with. In this respect the Vascular Society supports the NHS England Sexual Safety Charter published on 8 September.”
Click here to read VSGBI president Rachel Bell’s response to the report.