Have You Been Sexually Harassed? Here’s What You Can Do

Article Categories: Environment & Legal and Ethics

With the recent trend of the #MeToo Movement, an online campaign by and for women who have been sexually harassed and assaulted, how do CNAs working the female-dominated field of nursing fare in this regard? Before we go into details, we’ll share some background facts for our discussion.

What is sexual harassment and how prevalent is it in nursing?

The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.” It applies to both males and females. For a case to be considered harassment, it must be severe or pervasive enough to affect working conditions or create an unsafe workplace. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) considers it a form of workplace violence. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recognizes it as a workplace hazard as well.

In nursing, 60% of female nurses and 34% of male nurses report being victims of sexual harassment, and many cases are not reported. This is not an emerging problem in healthcare. In fact, it has been a menace since the time of Florence Nightingale. Even when we have the figures to show its prevalence, those who experience sexual harassment still need continued support in the workplace.

And especially for CNAs who mostly work at the bedside providing personal care, their job opens opportunities for harassers to continue their abuse and intimidation undetected.

If you are a nursing assistant in an abusive situation, here are some steps you can take:

Set boundaries.

If the harasser’s behavior towards you makes you uncomfortable, tell them to stop. Look the harasser in the eye and tell them directly that their comments, sexual advances, or inappropriate touching is disrespectful and unwanted.

If the harassment continues or if you are fearful and reluctant to confront the harasser, follow the guidelines below:

Check agency policies on harassment.

There many ways to look these up. Your agency’s website or handbook may discuss how to properly handle such cases. You can also approach an officer who is responsible for assisting sexual harassment victims. If your agency or institution does not have such an officer, ask your HR department for a copy of these policies.

Follow the procedures stated in the policies.

The policies will contain steps on how to handle sexual harassment, including an option for filing a formal complaint.

If such policies don't exist or lack appropriate content, ask the help of your supervisor or the manage.

A supervisor or manager can serve as your advocate, speak on your behalf, and confront the harasser.

Know your rights as a victim and as a worker.

Every worker has the right to a safe workplace where they can be comfortable and focused in order to do their jobs efficiently. Also, there are laws designed to protect you from agency or manager retaliation or punishment.

Know government agencies and other organizations that help fight abuse and those that can help you overcome trauma.

There are many organizations and agencies that support victims with resources and guidance. They’re there for additional support. You can find them online or sometimes promoted by your workplace.

Being a CNA is already a challenging job and you have the right to work without feeling threatened or harassed. Even if you are not a victim yourself, help stop sexual harassment by supporting movements and campaigns against harassment, and aiding victims however you can in the process.


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