By Amanda Mamalio, PTRP
Find out how to stay within the Fine Line between Helping Others and Protecting Yourself
You just can’t believe it.
You’re helping a patient and he had the nerve to grope you in there.
He had the nerve to tell you those things while his eyes make you feel naked.
And suddenly, you don’t feel like a professional. You feel like a slut.
You might have cried. But maybe not this time. It had happened before to you. It had happened to others. So you do what they do: ignore, avoid, deny because you must have been mistaken.
Besides, what would others think of you?
We, as medical practitioners, have not been specifically trained on what to do upon sexual harassment.
The first time it happened to me, I never told anyone. I was afraid my supervisors wouldn’t believe me. After all, I told myself the patient was in the hospital to recover. He didn’t touch me on my genitals. He only touched me on the safe places during transfers that made me feel uncomfortable. I ignored his innuendos and tried not to squirm when he gives me that look that says “If you know what I mean.”
I don’t want that mindset to be your mindset. You deserved to be treated better.
You deserved to know better.
“Am I making you uncomfortable, Sir?”
One of the possible reasons of your patient’s inappropriate behavior is vulnerability. He’s in a hospital, dependent in what he used to take for granted. He might even need help in taking a piss. He feels weak, helpless and you’re one of the people who do things for him.
So what could be one of his defense mechanisms? He can transform that fear and helplessness into dominance. He can feel like a man again by imagining your sexual interest during treatment and procedure.
Or he might be sick and doesn’t know what he’s doing.
Or he’s just a total asshole to begin with.
Whatever the reason, if he’s in the right mind, this is something you can use to help him. The following questions are derived from other professionals:
1. When he makes sexual comments, ask him if the treatment or examination you’re giving him makes him uncomfortable. This will make him open up and you can respond with sympathy and reassurance.
It shows that you’re professional and unintimidated by the patient. You didn’t even have to lecture him or her.
2. If that doesn’t work, ask the patient, “Would you say that to a doctor?”
3. If that still doesn’t work or the patient groped you, follow RN.com guidelines on sexual harassment:
- Avoid scolding the patient.
- Avoid any response that the patient might interpret to mean that you welcome the behavior, find it funny or flattering.
- Move physically away from the patient.
- Tell the patient specifically what behavior is unacceptable
- Report the incident to your supervisor. Follow facility policy.
Report the harassment as soon as possible because prompt reporting strengthens your complaint. Tell your supervisor. If your supervisor doesn’t do anything about it, go to the HR office and file a complaint yourself. Document what happened, where and when. Name witnesses if possible.
Don’t be afraid and don’t be ashamed.
They’re the ones who should be.
You’re not the Only One who’ll Get Hurt
If sexual harassment persists, the offender’s behavior always worsens. Depression, anger, post-traumatic stress disorder will affect your work performance. If a PT is distracted by sexual harassment, patient care would suffer. This isn’t only about you as a person being affected, but other patients too.
You know now what to do. What to expect.
If they make a lewd comment, ask them the first questions above.
If they persist, report immediately.
You got what it takes to bring justice. Your patients are counting on you. They need you happy and at peace at the knowledge that you have treated yourself right and with dignity.
If you want to read more on Patient Sexual Harassment, click here.
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© PT Got Spunk 2014