For reasons that would be obvious to anyone that has experienced this, this post is being written long after the occurrence(s). That’s something about sexual harassment that I really detest, the in-built shame that the victim experiences! Even as I write this, I know I can’t fully share what happened, but I will do my best to share the salient points and drive my point home.
As an House Officer I went so long without experiencing it (well, that’s if you classify lewd comments as just ‘men being men” and not the harassment it really is, which I’ve chosen to do for my mental health’s sake), but as sure as the sun rises each day, some men just must fall into the stereotype.
It was my first day in a new department, meaning the perpetrator had never seen me before prior to this day. “Luckily” for me, I resumed on my unit’s call day so my first day was a 24 hour shift. Super. I was still in high spirits, it was a new team, so the novelty was still fairly intriguing.
That night, I was asked by Mr. Perpetrator (Mr. P), who had been nice all day (like everyone else in the team) to follow him to get something the team needed from his car, as he would need to move it from where it was parked. (Side note: Running such personal errands are common place as an house officer, some senior colleagues can go as far as having you pick their children from school, buy them bread and beans every morning etc. So this was relatively simple.)
Upon getting to the car, it was clear he had other plans. The rude shock I experienced that night was enough for me to want to go straight to my residence, but I still had 10 hours of my call-duty left – under his supervision. At this point, many things ran through my head – should I report? It’s literally my first day and he’d been there for years – would they believe the new girl? That idea was ruled out. I decided that I would just avoid being in closed spaces with him, that shouldn’t be so hard right?
A mere handful of hours later, after a long procedure (that I was made to attend by Mr. P though I couldn’t do anything useful due to my being a novice) I was asked to assist in writing up the procedure. Thinking we’d write it at the open desk outside the procedure room I followed along, albeit upset that I was being made to work with him. Mr. P instead led me into an empty part of the building (it was past 4am) and feigned interest in writing the procedure for all of 60 seconds before attempting to make “small talk” about the earlier incident, “is it because I’m married?” amongst other short stories.
It’s one thing to go through abuse, it’s another for the abuser to make light of it, whilst re-attempting to carry out same behaviour. I was frightened, I knew no one would hear me scream from where we were so I had to think fast. I pulled the hardest sleepy act I’ve ever done (imagine having adrenaline pumping through your veins but acting the opposite) and he offered to excuse me (how nice (!)). As I approached the door he rushed forward to lock it and switched off the lights.
The prayers in my heart at this moment… I was like God this can’t be it, not like this. Please God…More unnecessary small talk…looking back I think he assumed I was “forming” and so tried to make the atmosphere more accommodating for whatever it was he tried to achieve that night. But by the grace of God, he let me go, unscathed.
So, to the real point – how did I deal with this?
1) I eventually found colleagues that I could tell what happened, who then tag-teamed to ensure I wasn’t alone with him. Anytime he’d say “let Peters follow me to…” My friends would on the spot offer to go instead and create a reason as to why they were better suited to aid him than me. Shout out to those guys, y’all are the realest MVP.
2) However the above plan wasn’t always fool-proof and there were times he got his way but never during vulnerable times, just regular daytime work. I didn’t entertain any conversations he brought up about the topic, but at the same time never showed how hurt I was by the whole thing. Didn’t want to give him that. Never smiled in his presence or laughed at his “jokes”, even though that’s expected when you’re a junior colleague.
3) PRAYER. Miraculously, after a short period of enduring him, he got moved out of my team. Like, God literally stepped in.
4) I never reported, for the reasons stated above, but in hindsight I should have, because I later found out he continued his ways and it was against a friend of mine but she got out of it too (thank God).
To you, female medical students, intern doctors other junior cadres in the healthcare sector or any sector quite frankly, I write this post to put a voice to what we all are/have experienced and to tell you it’s not your fault. I intentionally left out what I was wearing because his unacceptable behaviour was exactly that – HIS BEHAVIOUR – and not simply a spinal, uncontrollable response to my appearance. That “signature” that they hang over your head can be signed by many other people; don’t let one person pressure you into doing things out of character for the sake of some calligraphy.
It’s tough, but you can come out of that situation. To the male colleagues reading this, be like my friends and support your female colleagues where you detect foul play such as this. Sometimes she may not tell you, but if you can detect tension, please diffuse it where possible. Be your sister’s keeper.
This is a long post, but it’s a necessary one.
Till next time,
Dr. ETP xo