EMS World

NOV 2018

EMS World Magazine is the most authoritative source in the world for clinical and educational material designed to improve the delivery of prehospital emergency medical care.

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24 NOVEMBER 2018 | EMSWORLD.com COVER REPORT: SEXUAL HARASSMENT my faith and my family, I can assure you, I would not be sitting here today." Whether it's the old cliché of caregiv- ers having trouble caring for themselves or just the Type A personalities drawn to the emergency services, Morningstar didn't— and doesn't—wear the victim role well. "To identify myself as a victim, that's hard," she says. "It almost inhibits me from being able to heal and truly move on, because I just can't accept that this is where I'm sitting. I feel so robbed of every- thing I fought for. And for what? What did I do? What was wrong with me? "It's going to be a lifelong battle. There are days where you tell yourself, Come on, this is just a chapter in your life. You've overcome it. It's fine. And then I have times where I pass the cemetery and realize I'm not going to have the honors there that firefighters who retire from the city of Cir- cleville get. Some people find that silly, but it's something we all look forward to that was robbed from me. I don't get that honor. That's hard for me to accept. "My mother had a heart attack the first of the year, and we almost lost her. My dad scooped her up and took her to the hos- pital himself instead of calling 9-1-1, and all I can think about is, If I'd been at work, he would have called me. I'm not going to get to serve and protect my family like I deserve to, and that's an internal battle I'm not sure ever will go away." It's also difficult not knowing if any of the culprits in Circleville—the he-man Developing a Voice How one harassment victim found the strength to stand against it—and now shares that with others I go to work to earn an income, support my family, and experi- ence personal fulfillment. No one goes to work for abuse, harass- ment, or to be demeaned. What I would like to talk about is some- thing that should never occur at work and experiences no one should endure—yet they do and must be addressed. Discussion of sexual harassment, let alone choosing "speak up" or formally file a complaint, in my experience, is frankly taboo. Unfortunately EMS often has a culture where "it's just the way it is" or "I was just joking" is the norm, making filing or addressing complaints a challenge. In my employment I have not seen sexual harassment addressed beyond provision of policies as part of a cursory first-day orientation. Addressing management of sexual harassment allegations for line staff, supervisors, and managers is rare beyond the onboarding process. I had a long route to understanding sexual harassment and learn- ing how to handle it in an EMS career. As a provider, my learning curve was steep. I experienced quid pro quo requests, inappropri- ate gestures and comments, and unwanted physical contact. As a young provider, when I reached across a desk, a male employee pulled my duty shirt forward and commented upon my anatomy. Subsequently I faced an administration representative and peers who said, "He would never do that." My buttocks have been grabbed and pinched more times than I can count. I am quite adept with a clipboard as a result. I have been propositioned for sexual favors. Male and female partners have suggested I would enjoy their company while inappropriately touching themselves. As a female supervisor, I have been publicly accused of dating male subordinates, providing sexual favors for male employees' advancement, and favoring male employees. The list is not exhaustive. As an administrator I found myself having to respond to similar alleged behavior and amend policy and guid- ance documents to accurately meet regulatory requirements. It wasn't in my recipe of life learning to know how to deal with sexual harassment or, later, manage the process of handling an allegation. I had to learn to speak up. Being caught off-guard and stunned when experiencing an event is a real and valid reaction. It is also difficult, in any profession, to speak up to or against author- ity figures. These are well-known phenomenon in medicine and other professions. I changed my behavior to maintain a public image that was above reproach. My words carry weight, and I want to always be per- ceived and treated as a professional. This means leadership and professionalism have some social downsides: af ter-work social hour is never going to be on my calendar; comradery is always on the radar and mindfully bounded. It is a hard path to take. I did struggle to find a strong voice and eventually learned to effectively have difficult conversations as well as understand the nuances of regulation and policy. I sought out formal education, discussions with senior administrators, communications practice, and oppor- tunities to work with leaders and professionals outside of EMS. I am now a mentor and have a formal education in administration. It is my role to guide those who do not have the formal training or social competencies to develop strong, knowledgeable voices to effectively advocate for themselves. As a leader I support building systems that promote ethical behavior and cultures of accountabil- ity. It is not the onus of the individual subjected to sexual harass- ment to "solve the problem." EMS leaders can change the culture— some already have. There are systems that actively promote cul- tures of accountability. They have strong human resources depart- ments staffed by individuals with HR as a true expertise. Culture and expectations are set and exemplified by senior leadership and supported at all levels. It is time to replicate those successes. I contribute to this issue to stimulate discussion in the fervent desire to see EMS continue to professionalize and realize the greatest autonomy for providers. My career has afforded me the opportunity to grow from a young EMT to a paramedic and into roles in EMS operations and administration. I acknowledge the changing social pressures and environment to which I contribute, including the #MeToo movement and its influence in the work- place for both men and women. It is with consideration and after deliberation with peers, mentors, and family, as well as reflect- ing on my experiences as provider and administrator, that I have requested this commentary be published anonymously. For additional information regarding sexual harassment, see www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/sexual_harassment.cfm. The author's name has been withheld at her request. She has been in EMS for more than 15 years.

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