I do not usually write on this subject. I avoid talking about it also. Not because I do not have what to say but rather because of numerous disturbing memories and experiences since childhood that I intentionally avoid remembering. Events of the last week involving TIME’S UP Healthcare pushed me to write this text.
I come from a society that normalized all forms of female abuse. From early childhood, our parents are training their daughters to avoid situations that increase girls’ chances of being abused. Girls are daily instructed not to walk into a building with a stranger, not to get into an elevator with a stranger, not to talk with a stranger outside. However, it would be quite simple if your safety was dependent only on these situations.
Sexual harassment described in leaked documents from Oregon Science and Health University involved an act when a defendant pushed his erected genitals against a victim’s back. In the society I come from, this would not have been viewed as anything worth reporting. This often happens in public transportation or other places with tightly jammed crowds. Rush hour crowds jammed in buses and trains make it easy for abusers to touch females inappropriately or push their parts against female bodies.
Males exposing their genitals publicly are often seen in secluded places. As a kid, I was instructed not to look while passing them. In a medical school, we frequently passed a guy in our University park. He was not aggressive to female students, so we were not afraid to pass him. His exposed genitals did not bother us as long as we were safe.
These public transport abusers and guys with exposed genitals were viewed as a minor distraction that is normally not even mentioned among friends because bigger harassments were everywhere. Your harasser might be your art teacher who teaches how to draw a human body and suddenly starts touching you in intimate places. Your harasser might be your school sports teacher who occasionally comes to the room where girls change and stairs. Your harasser might be a schoolmate who is just a few years above you, but he is hormonal and very strong.
Medical school widened the range of people and places to avoid. Female medical students could have been harassed or raped in a dorm by their schoolmates or strangers, in a hospital by their classmates or teachers, in some arranged situations often with no way out. Night shifts on surgical rotations were known for acts of harassment. Often refusal of sexual contact with the abuser would result in blackmailing if the abuser was a person in power. Many girls were afraid to refuse (I am not even saying to report) as they were afraid to have bad grades, fail the course, and eventually be kicked out of medical school. Girls learn to tolerate a lot to be able to graduate without being a source of shame for the parents.
As I am writing this, my mind brings back painful memories, stories, faces of raped and murdered female friends.
Graduation from medical school opens the door to adult workspaces. A medical career comes with unlimited sexual harassment. Often promotions, advanced degrees, some work-related opportunities for females come with a price that consists of some form of sexual service to the boss. Or bosses. Many females pay the price. Why? Because refusal has consequences, and retaliation will follow. Because females are used to the same sexual abuse everywhere, including their own home. Non-consensual sex with a husband is not considered as anything abnormal. It is a foreign concept for many that a woman has a right to agree or refuse in marriage. Sometimes females feel the same way about their bosses. Refusal means looking for a new job in a country with a limited job market.
I find myself lucky as I do not come from a society that stones females or burns their faces with acid for being sexually abused. But this difference is not really comforting.
Events of the last week, the trial documents involving OSHU, the initial silence of TIME’S UP Healthcare leaders, the reactions of many influential leaders in the medical community made me go through this painful remembering and writing.
The #MeToo movement gave many girls across the world hope that maybe even in their lifetime, they will be able to walk on the street or use the bus without the constant fear of being raped. The TIME’S UP movement gave many working females a hope that they will be able to come to work one day and feel totally safe and equally appreciated as their male coworkers. TIME’S UP Healthcare gave the same hope to the female health care workers. Many nurses and doctors who immigrated from male dominating societies looked up to this organization that positioned itself as the one to go to in workspace injustice. It is a shame that the cause that ruined many females’ careers and lives — that forced many to leave their schools, jobs, or countries, that caused some females to be murdered or committing suicides — has been used for clout chasing. It is even worse to see that the medical community is trying to act as nothing has happened.
Natalia Solenkova is a critical care physician and can be reached on Twitter @SolNataMD.
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