Thursday, February 10, 2011

Sexual Harassment: Not just for women anymore

In the ED, as in most health care fields, men and women work closely together. The work-friendship bond in this environment, sometimes develops into a very casual familiarity between the sexes. In this setting, the line between good-natured banter and out-right harassment can be a narrow one. Most reported cases of sexual harassment involve women being harassed by males. As I recently found out myself, this is always not necessarily the case.

One day a few months ago, I was working a shift in the ED minor care area. The ED was uncharacteristically slow, and the nurses and secretary were working with an off-duty nurse on a special project. I was sitting at my desk a few feet away doing something on the computer. The visiting nurse, with who I have had a couple of friendly conversations with previously, came over to my desk and starting looking at the computer too. She asked me what I was doing and slowly sidled up very close to me. Leaning in, she very explicitly propositioned me in a sexual way.

I was more than a little caught off-guard, but managed a nervous laugh and told her that I was in a relationship. I thought that would be it, but her reply was, "So am I, but I'm not interested in a relationship...I just want a little fun." I avoided eye contact, and just said something to the effect of "thanks, but like I said I am in a relationship." She then told me to think about it, but before she left the ER a little bit later, walked by and planted a surprise kiss on my cheek.

A day or two later, we were in the main ED together, and she suggested that we have coffee after work. She was getting off at 7pm and myself at 9pm. I politely declined and told her that I wasn't interested. I actually wound up working until 10:30pm, but when I walked out to the medical staff parking lot, this nurse had pulled her car up next to mine. I stopped to talk to her for awhile and repeatedly told her that I was not interested, and declined multiple invitations to join her in her vehicle. I told her that I was only interested in maintaining a friendly, professional work relationship with her. Eventually, I got into my car and drove away.

Several days later, I received a letter from this nurse at my home. I was actually at work at the time, and since it was addressed to Roger Scott Best PA, I asked my girlfriend to open it up and see what it said. The letter was full of personal information from this nurse...about her life, her marriage issues, sexual preferences and the like. The letter was "signed" with lipstick mouth-print.

A couple of days after that, this nurses approached me with questions about PA programs. She suggested we get together outside of work. I was busy and in a very public area of the ED, so I asked for her email and told her I would get back in touch with her soon. When I got home, I composed an email about her behavior, advances, and most particularly the matter of her letter. I made it very clear that I was not interested in anything other than a professional relationship at work, and that I expected no further inappropriate offers in the future. I eventually received an email in reply, which was unapologetic, but did say that I would receive no further inappropriate advances. I left it at that.

A week later, we worked together again with a critical patient. After work, I went home, had some coffee and talked with my girlfriend on the telephone. Almost 11:30 pm and as soon as I hung up the phone, my doorbell rang. I answered the door and it was this nurse at my home. She was dressed in some type of "costume" under a jacket, and was very persistently attempting to persuade me to allow her into my house. Despite the night being very windy and near freezing outside, I refused to let her into my house. Despite this, it still took me almost 45 minutes of telling her to "get in your car and go home," for her actually to do so. I told this story to a physician colleague of mine the following day, and he said she had mentioned to him the prior evening that she might do that (go to my house). He made comments to her in an attempt to dissuade this idea, but it apparently fell on deaf ears.

Finally, I had a sit-down with the ED director and went over the entire ordeal. I told her my opinion regarding this nurse as a valuable member of the team, and my desire for her not to lose her job, but that if this continued I would be forced to make a formal complaint. She later spoke with this nurse and made clear to her that she expected to observe nothing other than a completely professional relationship between she and I in the future and reiterated this again a couple of weeks later in a follow-up conversation. Fortunately, she did not have to lose her job...the certain outcome of a formal complaint. The directer, in our conversation, alluded to the fact that this was not an unheard of situation.

I have dwelt on that for some time. In work environments where a male presence predominates, you often hear of male on female sexual harassment. However, when the female-to-male ratio is reversed, my experience and the director's comment suggests that the reverse may be true. In addition, being a man, I was somewhat embarrassed by all this and didn't want be the "guy" that whines about sexual harassment from a woman. In retrospect, I should have done that after the parking lot incident, and certainly after the letter incident. After all, does "no" not mean no when a man says it to a woman? Apparently not to everyone. In my reality, it seems that both sexes have the equal propensity to inappropriately harass the other. Only in my case, and likely that of many other men, I was less likely to report it until the situation became intolerable. I hope the outcome will cause this nurse to re-evaluate her behavior, but I suspect that with the lack of definite consequences, she will eventually redirect this behavior towards someone else.

1 comment:

  1. This is a very revealing post. You are completely correct that men under-report any situation where they could be perceived as a victim. Thank you for sharing this and I'm sorry to hear you had to deal with the whole situation.