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Sexual Harassment of Nurses in the Workplace

Valente, Sharon M. PhD, RNCS, FAAN; Bullough, Vern PhD, RN, FAAN


Nurses who are sexually harassed at work face frustration and emotional and economic consequences. Historically before the 1970s, nurses had little legal recourse and tolerated sexual harassment as a necessary “evil” associated with working. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 created the option for legal remedies for sexual harassment/discrimination cases. Successful court cases established the legal criteria for sexual harassment. This article discusses the history, definition, high profile cases, research, consequences, and prevention of sexual harassment. Although research is scant and little is known of how nurses respond to harassing behavior, prevention requires coordinated activities of employers, individual employees, and the healthcare profession. Sexual harassment at work increases anxiety and undermines the nurse's ability to focus on the delivery of safe and competent care.

From the Veterans Affairs Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System, and the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, Calif (Valente)

The State University of New York, New York, NY. (Bullough)

Corresponding author: Sharon M. Valente, PhD, RNCS, FAAN, 346 N Bowling Green Way, Los Angeles, CA 90049 (e-mail:

Accepted for publication: December 10, 2003

© 2004 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.