Harassment of women is ingrained in the NHS

<span>Photograph: Getty</span>
Photograph: Getty

Dr Becky Cox’s experiences are shocking to read (The sexual abuse of female surgeons comes as no surprise to me. I quit rather than endure the misogyny, 13 September). Sadly, they are not surprising. I worked in the NHS as a nurse and nurse lecturer for 39 years. I’ve read some commentators saying that this casual sexual assault and humiliation of women in healthcare is new. It is not. Touching a woman when she is scrubbed (and can’t respond), undoing her bra (oh how funny), the comments about women when they leave the room, the drunken assaults at Christmas parties and conferences – the list is endless and has been going on in the NHS for a very long time.

Nor is it confined to surgery (although some surgeons seem to excel in this area). Substitute “male surgeon” for “Met police officer” and you get a sense of how offended society should be about this issue – it should be entirely unacceptable. I know this much – people change their behaviour only when given a compelling reason to. The assaulted women should not have to do the fighting: the institutions of the NHS and the state should. If some male healthcare staff are reported to the police for sexual assault or perhaps are dismissed, it might not change attitudes, but it might encourage some to keep their grimy hands and thoughts to themselves.
Ed Shields
Lisburn, County Antrim

• In the early 1960s, when socialising with medical students, I was horrified by the extremely lewd, misogynistic jokes and songs they all indulged in. But these were very young men suddenly finding themselves having to familiarise themselves with female bodies for the first time, often in extremely intimate ways. I felt at the time that this was their way of dealing with their embarrassment, but I can see that this would smoothly morph into the behaviour that drove Dr Becky Cox out of the profession.

I suspect that their professors probably dealt with the embarrassment in exactly the same way. But I doubt if it occurred to anyone then that this was a specific problem that needed addressing, and maybe nothing has changed.
Deirdre Sutton
Evesham, Worcestershire

• My daughter had a very similar experience during her first years as a medical doctor. She chose urology as her field, which, similar to surgery, is considered a man’s domain. Her male colleagues not only constantly insinuated that women and urology do not go together, they also told her that, being a good-looking woman, her place was not in the hospital. She came home crying more than once, but now she is a renowned and respected urologist. None of her colleagues ever acknowledged that, nor did they apologise.
Name and address supplied

• After yet another survey (Nearly one in three female NHS surgeons have been sexually assaulted, survey suggests, 12 September), one has to wonder if there is any work or training environment where there is no evidence of sexual harassment or assault.

The survey gives no indication of how often a young woman might encounter sexual harassment, or whether there is usually one perpetrator or more. But speaking as a retired geologist, having worked in a male‑dominated profession, I can say that just one or two incidents of sexually inappropriate behaviour can destroy trust and self-belief, which is never forgotten, and might in some cases affect the career path taken. That’s why the #MeToo movement took off so quickly, and for so many areas of work; some only just being revealed.
Dr Susan Treagus

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