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28 Sep 2017

The recent incident of two medical students falling victim to alleged sexual assaults at Royal Darwin Hospital is part of a much broader issue says the Australian Medical Students’ Association (AMSA).


AMSA is the peak representative body for Australia’s 17,000 medical students and believes that both the historical institutional culture of dominance in medicine and lack of clear reporting pathways are to blame for the ongoing problem of sexual harassment and assault.


Whilst two doctors were stood down over the separate incidents at Royal Darwin Hospital and clinical placements have been suspended in the department, there is a desperate need for wider action to see an end to this behaviour.


AMSA President, Rob Thomas, said: “Unfortunately we continue to hear of stories of sexual harassment and assault of students on clinical placements. It is not uncommon; however, more often than not, it goes unreported. The stories we see in the news are only scraping the surface of a much larger systemic problem.


“Sadly, there are many reasons that students feel they are better off not reporting experiences of sexual harassment.  These may include a lack of satisfactory mechanisms of addressing inappropriate behaviour, fear of reprisal and negative impact on their studies. Even worse, some students report becoming desensitised to multiple events of sexual harassment. The fatigue from repeatedly dealing with it means they become just too tired to care.


“What we do know, is that you don’t have to ask too widely for stories and experiences of sexual harassment and assault amongst our peers. Yet most will never be formally reported.


“Medical students exist in an awkward interim space between the university where their degrees are accredited and hospitals where they undertake their clinical placements. The dual reporting structures of each institution’s sexual harassment policies are often either inaccessible or difficult to enforce.


“AMSA recognises the detrimental consequences of sexual harassment and assault on individuals including declining personal wellbeing, impact on specialty choices and dissuasion from remaining in medicine.


“The solution requires a cooperative process between Universities and health services that is transparent, independent and accessible to address the presence of this behaviour.  An important part of changing this side to the culture of medicine will be improved knowledge, access and effect of incident reporting structures and mechanisms for dealing with inappropriate behaviour.”


Media Contact: Isabella Gosper


Phone: 0416 816 830


Published: 28 Sep 2017