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AUSTRALIAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION (WA)
A taskforce has been established to plan how best to tackle the very concerning issue of sexual harassment in the medical profession, the Australia Medical Association (WA) has announced.
“Sexual harassment is an insidious practice. Sadly the medical profession is not immune. This new body, with representatives from the AMA (WA) and the Health Department of WA will examine ways in which the complaints system relating to sexual harassment can be strengthened and improved,” AMA (WA) President Dr Michael Gannon said.
The decision to establish the Taskforce Against Sexual Harassment (TASH) is the first step taken by the AMA (WA) and HDWA to tackle the issue.
“The Taskforce will have the job of investigating this complex issue and propose a framework which can be established to act on, and substantially reduce instances of sexual harassment in WA health,” Dr Gannon said.
The establishment of the Taskforce follows an extensive survey of all medical professionals in WA conducted by the AMA (WA). Almost 1,000 replies were received to the on-line survey, more than 900 in the first three days – the strongest response to any AMA (WA) survey ever conducted.
“The response was quick and the response was clear. Many doctors in WA have, unfortunately, experienced sexual harassment,” Dr Gannon said.
The Survey results, carried in the April 2016 issue of the AMA (WA) monthly magazine Medicus, showed that almost a third of respondents (31 per cent) had experienced sexual harassment in their workplace.
A worryingly high 44 per cent of female respondents reported that they had experienced sexual harassment while 13 per cent of male respondents said that they had experienced the same.
The results not only demonstrated the extent of sexual harassment in the profession but showed the extent to which sexual harassment disproportionally affects female medical practitioners, given that women account for approximately 42 per cent of medical practitioners in WA.
Also especially concerning were the very low rates of survey respondents who had reported the instances of sexual harassment.
“This indicates that there has been both a lack of knowledge and a lack of confidence about the existing system of reporting harassment,” Dr Gannon said.
Many respondents noted the difficulty of being a victim of sexual harassment at the hands of someone who had influence over their career progression, reflecting the power imbalance inherent in how we provide medical training.
Some respondents highlighted their feeling of helplessness in feeling unable to report sexual harassment, or who were even advised by colleagues to just endure it in order to protect their careers.
“The survey conducted by the AMA (WA) makes very uncomfortable reading. The strong response to the questions suggests that we are facing a very sad, and a very real problem.”
“Unfortunately our hierarchical structures lend themselves to harassment and indeed bullying. Unfortunately there are some people in any part of society who will take advantage of their power,” Dr Gannon said.
Following the AMA (WA) survey, an action panel was established, involving AMA (WA) President Dr Gannon, both Vice-Presidents, and a number of male and female members from a range of specialities to consider possible actions.
It was decided to write to the Director General of the Health Department; the heads of both St John of God Health Care and Ramsay Health Care; together with the Deans of the University of WA and the University of Notre Dame to inform them of the survey results and ask for their approach.
It was then decided to establish a Taskforce, with representatives of the AMA (WA) and the Health Department to decide the steps that should be taken, including possible legislation if needed, to provide a full and robust complaints system that would have the support of everyone in the medical profession.
“The medical profession is a proud one. There can be no question that sexual harassment is unacceptable, unethical and entirely inappropriate. Unsafe workplaces threaten the safety of our patients. I promise zero tolerance of this sort of behaviour,” Dr Gannon said.
For the survey conducted by the AMA (WA), sexual harassment was defined as:
Any unwelcome, sexual advance; request for sexual favours; or conduct of a sexual nature where a reasonable person would have anticipated the possibility that the person harassed would be offended, humiliated or intimidated.
Examples of such behaviour include, but are not limited to: