It can happen to anyone: A mixed methods study describing and interpreting the current context of sexual harassment of female nurses by male perpetrators located at a state hospital in Sri Lanka
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Background: Sexual harassment occurs within the nursing profession across the globe. Reported prevalence rates differ within and between country contexts. Female employees commonly experience workplace harassment and violence in Sri Lanka. However, no prior study has explored sexual harassment specifically within the nursing profession in Sri Lanka. Aim: This study aims to describe and interpret the current context for the sexual harassment of female nurses by male perpetrators in a Sri Lankan state hospital. Methodology: A mixed methods study was conducted in a state hospital in Sri Lanka over the course of one month in 2015 and one month in 2017. First, 237 nurses completed a quantitative study and 233 responses from females were analysed in SPSS using descriptive statistical tests. Next, individual in-depth interviews were conducted with four senior nurses and two nursing instructors and focus group discussions were held with 29 nurses (in three groups) in the same state hospital where the survey was completed. A content and thematic analysis was used to analyse the qualitative data. Finally, an integrative quantitative and quantitative analysis was conducted to produce an explanatory model. Results: Almost half of the nurses who completed the survey reported experiences of sexual harassment. Nurses commonly experienced more than one type and multiple incidents of sexual harassment. Male co-workers and patients were identified as the main perpetrators of sexual harassment in the survey and discussions respectively. The general reactions of nurses to incidents of sexual harassment were passive in both the survey and discussions. Nurses responded by trying to escape, doing nothing, and staying silent. They responded this way because of cultural sanctions, fears of repercussions or hurting their family, and shyness. A variety of sociocultural, organizational, and sex-role factors, external to the nurse, explain the widespread phenomenon of the sexual harassment of nurses in this hospital setting. Conclusions: Findings from this study illustrate that sexual harassment has the potential to affect any nurse, as the contributing factors with the greatest significance are external to the nurse. Thus, policies and preventive strategies at the organizational and governmental levels need to recognize the role these external factors play in order to address sexual harassment.