Nurses reporting sexual assault must not be dismissed as ‘woke’
Sexual harassment at work has been seen as ‘part of the job’ because most nurses are women, senior nurse tells MPs as she calls on the NHS to empower staff
Nurses need to be empowered to report sexual assault and harassment at work and not fear being branded ‘woke’ for speaking out, a nursing leader told MPs.
RCN chief nurse Nicola Ranger said that nurses – being part of a predominantly female profession – have long been made to feel sexual harassment was just part of the job.
She told cross-party members of the Commons women and equalities committee: ‘Historically, there has been a sense that [sexual harassment] is part of the role – get on with it, but it is key that we empower people to report. We need to actively make sure there is a safe space – there is huge under-reporting.
‘Nursing is not valued for the brain and the heart you need to be a nurse because we are 90% female. This has affected our pay and how we’re treated. It has to stop’
Nicola Ranger, chief nurse, RCN
‘A lot of people are made to feel like they are the fly in the ointment, that they’re not being resilient, they’re a snowflake generation.
‘There is a little bit of “it’s all become very woke, in my day it was a bit more banter” and I think that is where it’s got to stop.’
Scale of sexual harassment and assault female nurses and surgeons face
The session was called in response to research findings in British Journal of Surgery that found almost one third of female surgeons had reported being sexually assaulted by a colleague, and two thirds the target of sexual harassment.
Ms Ranger gave evidence alongside chair of the Royal College of Surgeons’ women’s forum Tamzin Cuming, and co-founder of campaign group Surviving in Scrubs Chelcie Jewitt.
So far in 2023, RCN Direct has received 253 calls from female members relating to physical, sexual and verbal abuse in the workplace, an increase from last year, Ms Ranger told the MPs. She said that female nurses were often more likely than female doctors to experience sexual assault from patients rather than colleagues. She said while was often hard to control patient behaviour, the NHS employers can control how it looks after staff by supporting them to come forward.
Harassment of nurses can escalate outside work thanks to social media
Additionally, she said unwanted advancements and harassment can spread outside the workplace as colleagues or even patients track victims down using social media. She wants the government to collect better data to understand the extent of sexual harassment and assault in the NHS.
‘Nursing is in a very difficult place in this country, not being valued for the brain and the heart that you need to be a nurse because we are 90% female,’ she told the committee.
‘That has affected our pay, our terms and conditions, how we’re treated… and that is absolutely wrong. It’s time nursing staff are respected… this behaviour has got to stop, from patients as well as colleagues.’
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