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Physical therapists report high rates of sexual harassment

Physical therapists in California may be likely to face sexual harassment from their patients. In a study that surveyed nearly 900 physical therapists and students, 84 percent reported sexual harassment at work, and nearly half said they had experienced it in the past year. Women comprised around 80 percent of respondents, and 60 percent of them worked with patients who had cognitive impairments such as brain injury or dementia. Psychological consequences of harassment included depression, anxiety, fear and guilt.

Women reported higher harassment rates than men. Harassment included requests for sexual activity, sexual gestures, inappropriate touches, suggestive remarks and date requests. Less experienced physical therapists were more likely to experience harassment as were those who worked with patients who had brain injuries. Physical therapists who had an equal number of male and female patients were twice as likely to experience harassment compared to those who mainly worked with women. Those who worked largely with men were almost 400 percent more likely to experience harassment.

Therapists also reported a lack of support regarding the harassment. One professional who was not involved in the study suggested that the public should be better educated about what physical therapists must deal with and that other studies should look at how organizations approach safety for their employees.

These issues are similar in other industries as well. It is not uncommon for an employee reporting sexual harassment to encounter resistance even in workplaces that have procedures in place for dealing with these types of reports. Therefore, a person who is experiencing this harassment may want to talk to an attorney about how best to handle the situation. The attorney could offer advice on how to best document the harassment and what to do if the company’s response is inadequate.