How prevalent is sexual harassment in neurosurgery?

How prevalent is sexual harassment in neurosurgery?

Written by Erika Watts on November 17, 2020 — Fact checked by Hilary Guite, FFPH, MRCGP

Responses from 622 neurosurgeons to an online survey show that the majority have either witnessed or experienced sexual harassment.

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When the Me Too movement gained worldwide visibility in 2017, the prevalence of sexual harassment across industries and socioeconomic environments became very clear.

The movement often highlights harassment in the workplace where there are power imbalances. In 2018, the Pew Research Center published a survey that found that 59% of women and 27% of men experienced sexual harassment in or out of the workplace.

More than half the women (55%) reported that the sexual harassment had occurred in the workplace.

Understanding how often such harassment happens is crucial for creating a safe workplace. To this purpose, Dr. Deborah L. Benzil, a neurosurgeon with Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, OH, conducted a survey on the prevalence of sexual harassment in the neurosurgery field on behalf of the One Neurosurgery Summit, which brings together seven neurosurgery associations, boards, and academies.

The findings of the survey appear in the Journal of Neurosurgery. The survey found that a high percentage of females and males working in neurosurgery reportedly experienced some form of sexual harassment at work.

Survey design and implementation 

According to the journal, the goals of the survey were to:

  • Assess perceived attitudes toward systemic issues that might be permissive of sexual harassment.
  • Measure the reported prevalence and severity of sexual harassment.
  • Determine the populations at highest risk and those most likely to perpetrate sexual harassment.
  • Dr. Benzil included a variety of questions in the survey, including asking about the gender of respondents, details about the environment where the harassment occurred, and the culture of neurosurgery. The survey also asked where the harassment took place, such as at a hospital or private practice.

    The study addresses how many people experienced sexual harassment in the workplace and how many also witnessed it.

    Dr. Benzil used SurveyMonkey to send the survey to all members of the Society of Neurological Surgeons and Congress of Neurological Surgeons.

    Dr. Benzil sent out 5,166 surveys and received a response from 12% (622) of people, 20% of whom identified as women.

    According to the study paper, this is more than we might expect given that women in the U.S. make up just 8% of practicing neurosurgeons and 19% of residents in the specialty.


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