Thu | Dec 9, 2021

Hospital predators - Sex harassment rattles docs, nurses, others

Published:Sunday | February 24, 2019 | 12:00 AMErica Virtue - Senior Gleaner Writer

Sexual harassment is rampant throughout Jamaica’s public hospitals and clinics, and predators have been emboldened by a culture of impunity and a wall of silence, The Sunday Gleaner has learnt. No one is immune.

Although the sample size of the non-scientific study was small, there is an emerging narrative of sexual predation among medical personnel.

The pilot survey, which collated the views of 37 doctors in January 2019, found that 75 per cent of males were being sexually harassed by other men in the workspace. Among women, 30 per cent admitted to being harassed by other women.

“Harassment is unwelcome sexual advances and characterised by a hands-off approach. Sexual assault is intentional and characterised by touch, therefore hands-on,” said Dr Brandon Bernard in the course of a presentation at The University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) during its quarterly Grand Rounds Seminar on Thursday.

“Non-clinical areas in the medical workspace are the most likely areas for abuses to take place,” he told the seminar. “I cannot overemphasise that a third party must be present when a patient is being examined, to guard against allegations.”

Medical student stalked


While mouths flew wide open when Bernard, a first-year medical resident, revealed the high level of harassment by gays, the findings presented at the forum revealed a range of intimidatory actions, including a psych aide stalking a medical student, and another penalised for six months by a supervisor.


Bernard also referenced studies in the Asian Journal of Business Management and the Journal of International Women’s Studies 2006, and a paper titled Sexual Harassment and Sexual Harassment Policy in Jamaica: The Absence of Sexual Harassment Policy and the Way Forward, 2012, authored by R. Peters and Paul Bourne.


Bernard said research has shown that a fear of retaliation had driven many victims underground, causing severe under-reporting. Harassment victims said they were oftentimes accused of “overreacting”.


A consultant told The Sunday Gleaner that she was sexually harassed by a patient to the point of “real fear” when having to deal with him. She eventually refused to see him without a third party. And a St Catherine-based doctor revealed that he was “sexually harassed by the relative of male patient to the point where I refused to see the patient”. A former private hospital patient had to block from her cell phone a nurse who began sending her naked pictures of herself, including “pictures of a meal without knives or forks”.


Both Medical Association of Jamaica President Dr Clive Lai and Nurses Association of Jamaica (NAJ) President Carmen Johnson said their organisations had received no formal reports of sexual harassment.


But Johnson acknowledged that there is anecdotal evidence that nurses, the majority of whom are female, have suffered harassment at the hands of male doctors.


“If you go to meetings or you are in a discussion, you will get that complaint or hear stories about that happening in particular institutions. You will also hear members speak about it among themselves, but if you are in a meeting setting, you will hear it,” she told The Sunday Gleaner, explaining the reticence about coming forward.


The NAJ president encouraged members to make formal complaints, using the proper channels.


Medical sales representative Anne Bingham also told the seminar that some doctors were on distributors blacklist.


“Some of the younger representatives have been warned to avoid some doctors. They are well-known sexual harassers and we advised them to avoid them,” she told the seminar.


Jamaica Civil Service Association (JCSA) President O’Neil Grant, who represents some categories of non-medical staff, said the association is aware of incidents in which its members have been sexually harassed.


“There are incidents involving our members where reports have been made formally of individuals who are sexually harassed. However, the matters were dealt with at the local level, so there was no need for the association to be involved. The complainants also felt satisfied with the way the matter was treated,” Grant told The Sunday Gleaner.


“The JCSA is aware of same-sex harassment by both males and females … . But the fear of retaliation, especially among contract workers, has caused significant under-reporting, I believe,” he said.