Career advice

Ward off unwanted advances

Nurses are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment from patients, visitors or co-workers.

Sexual harassment in the workplace remains a taboo topic, especially in certain professions. Nurses are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment from patients, visitors or co-workers.

Here are five things to remember to protect yourself:

1. Address your role

Sexual harassment from patients can stem from their vulnerability while receiving care. Explain to patients in detail what your role is and that you are there to take care of them. Let them know that you understand their vulnerability, but that your focus is their wellbeing.

2. Voice your discontent

It is important to let the individual know that you do not appreciate their advances. Remaining silent or ignoring the person often only encourages them to continue. Use language that clearly indicates your discontent; words such as ‘offensive’ or ‘unwarranted’ will make your feelings clear.

3. Sexual harassment training Knowledge is a powerful tool. Training can help you understand exactly what constitutes sexual harassment and teach you what to do if you encounter it. In addition, it may include information about the complaints process at your organisation as well as the support systems in place.

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4. Use support networks

Support systems can provide you with advice on strategies to deal with sexual harassment, give you confidence to confront an offender, and offer support if you do experience it.

5. Report it

Regardless of how minor an incident may be, report it by following the correct procedure in your organisation for sexual harassment complaints. This means you have a record of any actions. This is especially important if the offence is serious and/or the offender is a colleague.

Strategies to prevent sexual harassment are grossly underused. It is your responsibility as a nurse to protect yourself by using support systems, reinforcing your professional position, attending sexual harassment training and reporting incidents. It is your right to feel safe in the work environment.

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