About the Job

Abuse and Sexual Harassment in the Nursing Profession

Abuse and Sexual Harassment in the Nursing Profession

In years past, many people thought that nursing was a second-class profession. Nurses were merely a doctor’s assistants, and how wrong that thinking was. Nurses collaborate with doctors in saving lives and take tremendous abuse from patients and staff in the process. The employers exploit nurses, often unpaid, work long hours, and have to suffer from abusive situations.

The American Nurses Association or ANA reported that its #EndNurseAbuse initiative, which launched in 2017, now includes eradicating sexual harassment. Additionally, as part of the action, ANA highlighted its robust support for the #TimesUpNow movement. This movement endorses responsibility and demands penalties for inequality, abuse, sexual assault, and harassment in the medical environment.

Faced with abuse on almost a daily basis, nurses worldwide care about their patients and keep on working in spite of the dangerous conditions. Nurses have admitted to being kicked, spat on, verbally abused, sexually abused, and punched by patients. A Canadian study that begun and finished in 2014 stated that nurses had reported more violent events in their workplace than what corrections or police officers experience.

Nurses everywhere admit to taking many safety precautions to prevent attacks. They wear their hair differently, park in different places, and avoid dark sides of hospitals and clinics. Some nurses in inner city hospitals leave work in groups so no one must walk to their car alone.

A few months ago, a patient stabbed a nurse in a hospital in Massachusetts. Two nurses in Illinois were seized. One was raped and beaten. A nurse in Utah was pushed against a wall and unlawfully taken into custody by a police officer. In Arkansas, a patient pushed a nurse down a flight of stairs, and a nurse in Louisiana was locked in a dark closet by a doctor because she wouldn’t respond to his advances. Cases of sexual abuse and physical abuse have been reported in North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and New York. There are probably hundreds of more cases that go unreported.

The ANA has a policy of “zero tolerance” for workplace abuse and urged nurses in hospitals and clinics to work together to reduce abusive incidents. The ANA’s Health Risk Appraisal goes on to say that 1 in 4 nurses are assaulted daily by either a patient or a family member of a patient.

A pledge for healthcare professionals, nurses, and the public to stand with nurses and share their stories about workplace abuse is available for everyone to stand against abuse.  As of today, almost 10,000 individuals signed a pledge to:

•    Share the pledge and ask friends and family to sign.

•    Report abuse against nurses whenever safely possible.

•    Support zero-tolerance policies for abuse against nurses.

The American Nursing Association has convened a panel to address barriers to reporting abuse against nurses. There are more than 3.6 million registered nurses in the United States and #EndNurseAbuse is working to provide safe work environments for healthcare professionals, especially nurses.

Workplace harassment

Harvey Weinstein’s history of sexual harassment against women in Hollywood is an all-too-familiar story for those in the nursing profession. Nurses have their own “Harvey Weinstein” or powerful men in the medical society who feel it is their right to be perverse and act any way they please toward their employees and those nurses who work with them.

Almost 90 percent of nurses are female and women in every field have faced abuse. Nurses are not immune from abuse that comes from other medical professionals, patients, and patients’ families.

Sexualization of nurses by the media in movies, stories, and print has caused many nurses to be seen as "sex" objects by patients. Whoever thought up the idea of the “naughty nurse” gave an inaccurate and inappropriate picture that nurses are available to provide sexual services for patients.

Belinda Heimericks, Executive Director of the Missouri Nurses Association, claims that if you ask any nurse if about harassment, the majority will answer, "yes, am a victim. “Nearly every nurse will run into it at some time in their career.” Harassment from patients can be offensive jokes, sexual comments, or inappropriate touching. State and Federal laws designed to guard nurses against sexual harassment by patients do work. Many patients do stop before the nurse calls a lawyer. But, more must be done.

To stop harassment by a patient, a nurse needs to:

  • Set boundaries. If a patient begins an innocent joke that quickly escalates to sexual commentary, the patient needs to be put on notice that this type of language is inappropriate and unappreciated;
  • Change the subject before the language gets out of hand;
  • Report all harassment including improper language to the supervisor. It is always possible to reassign a nurse to a different patient;
  • Try not to be alone with the patient who is inappropriate. Nurses who cannot get who must work with abusive patients need to work in pairs. Most patients will get the message; however, if mental problems exist there often is violence.

Two nurses taken hostage after a Kane County inmate escaped his room at Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital filed suit Thursday alleging the corrections deputy assigned to guard Tywon Salters left him unshackled, then ran and hid after the inmate took the officer's gun. 

Identified only as Jane Doe 1 and 2, the nurses and their husbands are suing the Kane County Sheriff's Office, APEX3 security and corrections deputy Shawn Loomis in connection with the May 13 hostage situation at the Geneva hospital.

Salters left the hospital room naked and sexually assaulted one of the nurses, who was also struck in the arm by the bullet that killed her captor, attorney Sean P. Murray said during a Thursday news conference. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, seeks compensatory damages, court costs, attorney fees and other relief. (The Beacon-News, May 26, 2017).

Harvey Weinstein is a reprehensible snake. He does not have the looks that make him appealing to women, but he was dominant and targeted struggling actresses who knew Weinstein’s reputation. Nurses can be found in comparable circumstances where doctors are so valued that they can do very little wrong. For example, in 2009, Janet Bianco, a nurse who worked at Flushing Hospital in New York, received $15 million after suing Dr. Matthew Miller for sexual harassment. In 2001, Dr. Miller violently attacked Ms. Bianco two different times. The nurse complained to her supervisor, but nothing happened.


For decades everyone knew about Weinstein’s habits, but no one said anything. It is a sad commentary on a hospital’s administration when a doctor tries to force his tongue down a nurse’s throat while a medical director cheers him on. Previously, the doctor had been censored by the state medical board for “moral unfitness to practice medicine.”

A nurse in an emergency room in Louisiana experienced stalking by the attending physician. He pushed her into empty rooms and requested she "do stuff to him." When the nurse reported this behavior, she was fired from her job. The doctor still practices medicine in that hospital ER and the nurse is still looking for a nursing position.

Those who face sexual harassment at work, and especially in medical situations, feel violated, frustrated, and damaging emotions. Many nurses leave the medical field hoping they can find satisfaction in other types of employment. With the nursing shortage in America today, this is an unfortunate commentary.

What is the answer? It is essential that everyone who witnesses an abusive type of behavior report such inappropriate behavior.

Watch out for each other and stand up for yourself and for your nursing coworkers.