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Nurses often experience sexual harassment from their patients

Most people who enter the field of nursing are compassionate individuals who want to help people—so that may make it exceptionally difficult for them to deal with sexual harassment from their own patients.

When a patient subjects a nurse to sexual harassment, it creates what is known as a hostile work environment. It can come about through a variety of subtle and overt methods:

—Leering at the nurse or trying to get a look down a female nurse's shirt while she's changing a bandage, inserting a needle or otherwise caring for the patient

—Touching the nurse in a way that's sexually suggestive, such as grabbing the breasts of a female nurse or pinching the rear of a male nurse

—Making lewd comments or suggestions, especially if the nurse is about to help the patient bathe or dress

—Outright propositioning the nurse for sexual favors or going so far as to hit the "call" button while masturbating so that the nurse comes in while the patient is in the middle of the act

Researchers say that patient-to-nurse sexual harassment is common and may stem from cultural stereotypes like the "naughty nurse," which encourage people to see nurses in general as sexually available or objects of sexual gratification. Nurses who have to deal with constant sexual harassment in the workplace often underreport incidents—but even if they do, hospital management doesn't always act in a supportive way.

Nurses who feel threatened sexually by a patient need to take specific steps to protect themselves. They should directly address the behavior, with another nurse as a witness, and make it clear to the patient that they need to maintain a professional relationship. They should also ask another nurse or assistant to be present during all interactions with their harasser. All incidents should be reported to management as soon as possible.

Management, for their turn, needs to be responsive to the concerns of nurses and step in to protect them from further harassment. They can reassign a difficult patient to another nurse and institute mandated policies that require supervisors to give assistance to nurses who report abusive patients. Failing to act is allowing sexual abuse to happen.

If you're a nurse who has experienced a hostile working environment due to patient abuses and you've found management less-than-receptive (or have even been told to simply tough it out), consider contacting an attorney for assistance.

Source: FindLaw, "Sexual Harassment at Work," accessed Dec. 20, 2016

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