Thu 08 February 2024:
Widespread sexual harassment is prevalent on the job in the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), according to the College of Paramedics, the professional body for all paramedics in the country.
Some former and current paramedics who were victims of sexual harassment spoke about how the problem is “widespread” and affects their lives, Sky News reported.
One of them is then newly qualified paramedic Freya, who was 24 the first time she was groped at work. She was cleaning out the cupboards of the ambulance station crew room.
Recalling the incident, Freya, which is not her real name, said: “People just laughed, some didn’t even look up from the TV. Like it was nothing, completely normal.”
Freya added that she put up with jokes and comments for more than 10 years, until one day she was locked in the back of an ambulance and sexually assaulted by a senior colleague.
“I have scars – mentally and physically. I had the career I loved stolen from me. And I’m lonely now, I’m on my own, because I can’t trust anyone,” said Freya, who has since left the ambulance service.
Tracy Nicholls, the head of the College of Paramedics, said: “Problems exist in every (NHS) trust, across all four countries –England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland– in the United Kingdom.”
We have found that our student or female student council members are experiencing misogyny and sexual harassment – if not on a daily basis then on a weekly basis, by a minority of people who just feel that that behaviour is acceptable,” she added.
– ‘SEXUAL COMMENTS, QUESTIONS, JOKES EVEN IN FRONT OF PATIENTS’
Laura, not her real name, who is currently a paramedic for a different ambulance service in the UK, defined sexual harassment in the profession as “incessant.”
She said that students and new recruits are routinely referred to as “fresh meat”, subjected to sexual comments, questions and jokes, even in front of patients and are continually sexualized by some male colleagues.
“It’s exhausting … You come to work wanting to help your patients but every day you’re dealing with inappropriate behaviour and sexual comments,” said Laura.
Laura noted that she ended up looking forward to the winter months, where she can wear her jacket more often so that she is “more covered up.”
“… Very often the stories I’ve heard of include mentors who have got wives and kids at home, and almost preying on these students who they think don’t know any better.”
Carol King, a former operations manager at South Western Ambulance Service, said that there’s an inherent power imbalance and vulnerability to working as a paramedic that abusers can exploit.
“So you’ve usually got two people together in an ambulance, obviously it’s isolating, you’re really vulnerable. If there’s an age gap the newer paramedic or trainee might see the older one as their idol.” she said.
King, who left the Ambulance Service in 2017, added: “And if something does happen you’re afraid of saying anything to anybody senior because you always think you’re going to get reprisals, possibly that you won’t get another job, you won’t be able to move up the career ladder.”
In its report, published this winter, the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives (AACE) pointed out concerns for “sexual safety” of staff working in the sector.
It found that sexual harassment is deemed “acceptable” or a “rite of passage” in NHS trusts, which “normalises or creates a toxic culture” with “risks to mental and physical health.”
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