In a shocking study done in 2012, nurses from three government hospitals in Melaka, Malaysia reported that the prevalence of sexual harassment among them was as high as 51.2%, with 22.8% of them claiming that the harassments took place in the past one year. These harassments took different forms, including psychological, verbal, physical, non-verbal and visual harassment. This worrying trend begs the question; what can nurses do to combat sexual harassment?

The first step in answering that question is to understand what sexual harassment in a clinical setting looks like. The Malaysian Code of Practice (1999), set out by the Human Resource Ministry, Malaysia, defines sexual harassment as unwanted conduct of a sexual nature that can be perceived by the receiver as putting a sexual condition on his or her employment. It may also take the form of intimidations or threats and offence or humiliation. These harassments can come from patients, superiors, colleagues or the like.

If you are a nurse, it is important that you take certain steps to ensure the perpetrators do not get away scott-free and terrorize others:

Report the Incident

Many of the harassment cases involving nurses go unreported. Therefore, policy makers and hospital administrators are often under the impression that these harassment cases are fairly low or nonexistent. Reporting a sexual harassment case sounds much easier than it actually is. Many nurses are reluctant to report such incidences as the perpetrator is an important patient, respected superior or doctor. Some just do not want to attract unnecessary attention upon themselves, or worse yet, be ridiculed.

It is important to quickly report the case to your superiors, the HR department or a higher authority in your workplace. Talk about the harassment until someone actually listens. There have been times when internal hospital administrators refuse to pursue sexual harassment cases for fear of negative publicity. This is when you have to reach outwards and seek out NGOs or Government departments.

Confront the Perpetrator

This may seem like a very awkward and scary thing to do, especially if the perpetrator is your boss. However, you need to firmly but politely tell them that their actions or words make you uncomfortable and you do not enjoy or welcome their advances. Remind him or her that there are laws against this and that you have rights as the receiver of this harassment to seek redress.

Record the harassment

Keep a journal record of the harassment, including what was done or said, and the time and place the incident happened. It would be even better if you could record an audio or video of it taking place, which would be strong evidence to use against the perpetrator if your case ever goes to a court of law. Audio or video recordings will help greatly in convincing your workplace authorities of the veracity of your claims.

Form a support network

If you or your fellow nurses are going through this struggle, always support each other. Do not discourage one another from lodging reports or seeking justice, and avoid gossiping or bad-mouthing each other. Sexual harassment in the workplace can happen to anyone, and a little bit of moral support to the victim can make your workplace safer for all.

Fighting sexual harassment in a medical setting is not much different from other workplaces. Remember that if you face sexual harassment as a nurse, you are not alone in your fight. MIMS

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