Shocking level of sexual harassment directed at female surgeons

  • Date: 15 September 2023

A SURVEY of UK surgical staff has found that over the last five years nearly two-thirds of women reported being the target of sexual harassment with 30 per cent subject to actual sexual assault.

These are key findings from research published in the British Journal of Surgery.

Over 1,700 surgical staff (both men and women) participated in the survey and weighted and unweighted analyses of the data found that compared with men, women were significantly more likely to report witnessing and being a target of sexual misconduct.

The study found that among women, 63.3 per cent reported being the target of sexual harassment versus 23.7 per cent of men, and 29.9 per cent of women had been sexually assaulted versus 6.9 per cent of men. It also found that 10.9 per cent of women reported experiencing forced physical contact for career opportunities and 0.8 per cent of women reported being raped by a colleague.

An evaluation of how adequately organisations handle reports of sexual misconduct was also found to be significantly lower among women, ranging from 15.1 per cent for the General Medical Council to 31.1 per cent for the Royal Colleges.

The researchers concluded: “Sexual misconduct in the past 5 years has been experienced widely, with women affected disproportionately. Accountable organizations are not regarded as dealing adequately with this issue.”

Dr Latifa Patel, equality lead at the BMA, commented: “The scale and severity of sexual assault against female surgeons over the past five years, revealed by this survey, is atrocious. It is appalling that women in surgery are being subjected to sexual assault and sexual misconduct from their colleagues, at work and often whilst they are trying to care for patients. The impact this will have on their wellbeing for years to come as well as their careers is profound.”

Responding to the study, Mr Tim Mitchell, President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said: “The findings of this survey are truly shocking. When we have chosen careers in surgery to save lives, it is incredibly upsetting to know that so many of our colleagues’ lives have been so deeply affected, and in some cases destroyed, by this abhorrent behaviour.

“Let me be clear – there is no place in our operating theatres, or anywhere in the NHS, for sexual misconduct. NHS trusts need to take a long, hard look at whether their policies and procedures for sexual misconduct are fit for purpose, as do regulating bodies. And then, where able, and supported to, surgeons may feel more comfortable calling out behaviour and reporting it.

“The Royal College of Surgeons of England is taking this issue incredibly seriously. We will not tolerate such behaviour in our ranks. I will personally be asking our Council members and leading surgeons to take that message back to their organisations.”

This page was correct at the time of publication. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.

Save this article

Save this article to a list of favourite articles which members can access in their account.

Save to library

Related Content

Equality, diversity and inclusion workshop

Equality, diversity and inclusion workshop

Coroner's inquests

For registration, or any login issues, please visit our login page.