COMMENTARY

Sexual and Physical Harassment in Military Nurses

Laurie Scudder, DNP, NP

Disclosures

December 29, 2011

Protecting and Respecting Military Nurses

Rushton P
Int J Nurs Pract. 2011;17:615-620

Study Summary

Background. Although much has been written about the issue of abuse of women in the military, no studies have specifically focused on abuse of military nurses. The purpose of this study was to document the perception and experiences of abuse and harassment by female nurses during wartime, analyze their perspectives, and provide an account to both validate the experiences of these nurses and to educate the public about the roles of nurses in the military.

Methodology. During this oral history project, Rushton interviewed 255 nurses who served in the military. These interviews were extensive, lasting from an hour to more than 6 hours. All discussions were recorded and transcribed for analysis and categorization.

Results. Previous research has found reports of sexual abuse, harassment, or threats in as many as half of military women. In contrast, in this study, only 4 of 255 military nurses reported such behavior. Although the article describes in some detail the women's reports of this behavior on the part of military colleagues, foreign military personnel, or patients, these descriptions are from a very small number of women. The researcher found instead that military nurses were more likely to experience a sense of being both protected and respected. These experiences, too, are described in some detail through direct quotes from the participants' oral testimony. Unfortunately, a quantitative analysis is not included so it is unclear what percentage of women described the experience of being respected and protected, although the researcher notes that these reports were common.

Viewpoint

This study has numerous methodological concerns. Rushton does not offer statistical data, including a power analysis or tests of significance. The study group began as a convenience sample of colleagues of the researcher with snowball sampling to recruit more participants. No demographic information about the participants is offered. The usual caveats with respect to recall bias with this type of retrospective research apply. The women were not specifically queried about sexual incidents but instead, they spontaneously reported them during discussions. Despite these many concerns, it seems clear that reports of harassment and/or abuse in 4 of 255 female military nurses represents a much lower incidence than is reported by military women overall. Although the descriptions of their experiences are disturbing, the experiences of these 4 women cannot be assumed to describe the experience of all military nurses. Equally it is unknown if this very small incidence represents the true experience of military nurses or simply the percentage of women in this sample who were willing to admit to and describe these experiences. More validity can be attached to the descriptions of the positive experiences of military nurses although this information would be more compelling if accompanied by a quantitative analysis. However, the researcher notes that these reports were quite common and quotes a number of participants directly to describe the circumstances that led to a conclusion that nurses were protected and respected. These reports are compelling and may indeed sound familiar to many civilian nurses. Since first included in Gallup's annual poll asking participants to describe the honesty and ethics of various professions, nurses have ranked highest in both areas in 12 of 13 years, including in the 2011 poll released in mid-December.[1] In that poll, 84% described the honesty and ethical standards of nurses as high or very high. That military members would view nurses in a similar vein is not surprising. However, the reports by these women offer a breath of fresh air in the midst of frequent news reports of the negative experiences of military women overall. My New Year's wish? That the experiences of military nurses would become the norm for all military women.

Abstract

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