Female surgeons sexually assaulted while operating

He wasn’t even the most senior person in the operating theatre, but he knew that behaviour was ok and that’s just rotten

Female surgeons say they are being sexually harassed, assaulted and in some cases raped by colleagues, a major analysis of NHS staff has found.

BBC News has spoken to women who were sexually assaulted in the operating theatre while surgery took place.

The study’s authors say there is a pattern of female trainees being abused by senior male surgeons, and this is happening now, in NHS hospitals.

The Royal College of Surgeons said the findings were “truly shocking”.

Warning – this story contains some graphic detail. There is support for anyone affected here.

Sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape have been referred to as surgery’s open secret.

There is an untold story of women being fondled inside their scrubs, of male surgeons wiping their brow on their breasts and men rubbing erections against female staff. Some have been offered career opportunities for sex.

The analysis – by the University of Exeter, the University of Surrey and the Working Party on Sexual Misconduct in Surgery – has been shared exclusively with BBC News.

Nearly two-thirds of women surgeons that responded to the researchers said they had been the target of sexual harassment and a third had been sexually assaulted by colleagues in the past five years.

Women say they fear reporting incidents will damage their careers and they lack confidence the NHS will take action.

She was sexually assaulted early in her career when she was the person with the least power in the operating theatre – and a senior male surgeon was sweating.

“[He] just turned round and buried his head right into my breasts and I realised he was wiping his brow on me.

“You just freeze right, ‘why is his face in my cleavage?'”

When he did it for a second time Judith offered to get him a towel. The reply came back “no, this is much more fun”, she says, “and it was the smirk – I felt dirty, I felt humiliated”.

Even worse for her was the total silence of her colleagues.

“He wasn’t even the most senior person in the operating theatre, but he knew that behaviour was ok and that’s just rotten.”

This happened to Judith in the middle of the operating theatre, but the sexual harassment and sexual abuse extends beyond the hospital.


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