To the attending who harassed me:
I’m sorry that we are in this position and thank you for meeting. I know that you met with HR already. I was told that you were “sufficiently remorseful they felt you wouldn’t do it again.” I’m sure you are sorry. However, what concerns me more is whether you understand what you did and why it’s not acceptable. The whole process of experiencing this and reporting it has made it to clear to me that even at a place like here so many people do not understand sexual harassment. I would like to share my perspective on this because this is the voice and perspective that is so often silenced via everything from violent retaliation to career hits and stigma.
Female physicians already have to rally every day for equal recognition in our jobs. When you repeatedly touched my leg and kissed me, you sent a signal that I’m not your colleague but something inferior. I am certain you would never grab a male resident kiss him. I am also certain you would not have kissed another attending demonstrating how these actions play on both the gender and attending-trainee power dynamics. Those dynamics alone make these actions wrong. I was left feeling like some small play thing not the resident who was supposed to be the leader of the team. It was humiliating and belittling. It is one thing to hope for this from patients but it’s disheartening to have to hope for that equality in recognition from an established faculty member.
Even more fundamentally, your actions demonstrate a lack of respect for a woman’s autonomy given that it didn’t cross your mind that a woman might not perceive your actions with her body in the same way as you. My thigh is not available for your grabbing at will and my face nor any other resident’s is not available for your lips to do what you want.
I want to be very clear; there is no construct of endearment, affection, or empathy, as has been suggested, that describes what you did. It was sexual harassment.
And ultimately, there is how it left me feeling. Maybe why I pushed so hard for something to be done before you went back on service, is the enormous effect your actions had on me and my fear they may do the same to someone else. Sure, the frequent thigh grab was certainly uncomfortable. However, when you kissed me-it was a visceral feeling of sheer fear. And when you kept holding onto me after you kissed me and kept talking in my face, my mind was racing through what you were going to do next or what exactly was happening as I gritted my teeth and smiled back at you. This was followed by constant anxiety, frequent panic attacks, flashbacks and sleepless nights in tears over the next few hours, days, and weeks. Your actions also opened old wounds I realized I never let heal. It wasn’t until this happened that I ever told anyone the full extent of the past. At first it was traumatizing but I’m learning to derive strength from having survived it. The last person who kissed me without consent then violently assaulted and tried to rape me. That is the fear your actions evoked; emotions of having your dignity and safety stripped away all at once. There is a key distinction between those events and these – he was a grad student without any power over me and I could eventually fight him back. You are in a position of power relative to residents and I never felt that I could ask you to stop grabbing my thigh or not kiss me. Knowing someone’s past shouldn’t matter in deciding these actions were wrong. But I want you to realize that you never know what someone has been through nor do you need to. These two experiences have also shown me these behaviors are not reserved for just bars or drunk frat parties; academic institutions are not immune to this behavior.
I am sure going to HR was not comfortable for you. What you may not realize is how hard I had to work to even get this to HR. Sexual harassment and assault in many ways are a dual trauma-the pain of experiencing it and the re-traumatization of re-telling the story only to feel degraded, and alone over and over again. It took 6 meetings and phone calls on my end for a plan to be put in place. Part of me regrets having reported it at all. I used to love our residency and my job but now I’ve lost so much trust of the established faculty because of what you did, because initially reporting this left me feeling even more isolated, and because here is where I was reminded of the worst night of my life. I’m sure being reminded of the past was something that was bound to happen. However, I hate that it happened here. For a while it took all my energy to show up here and keep from emotionally falling apart at work and I’m sure it will be a long journey pulling it back together.
This may all seem hyperbolic in response to what really amounts to a few minutes of your actions. But it only takes a few seconds to minutes to harass or assault someone. That is how much power one has in this sphere-a few seconds to minutes of your action can cause significantly more pain. I don’t share all of this to chastise you and I am really sorry we are in this position. I share it because it’s a perspective that needs to be shared and I hope brings you greater understanding of this problem.
I Have Given Up On: Not yet.
I’m Afraid: Of damage to my reputation, repercussions from leadership and the attending I reported, of being further violated by people in positions of power or from people I thought I could trust, of the flashbacks and anxiety I face at work constantly.
This Has Cost Me: An enormous amount of time in meetings, time spent dealing with my own emotions, money for therapy.
Is There a Bright Side: I think reporting this has awoken people at my institution that is an issue that needs to be dealt with and understood better.
My Fight Song: