Sexual misconduct in EMS

Have we fallen victim to a blind eye?


By Donald Deardorff, Xavier De La Rosa, Aaron Hernandez, Josh Single, Blake Taylor; Fitch & Associates Ambulance Service Manager Course Spring 2021

Throughout the history of EMS, there has been an unspoken undertone of sexual misconduct that our group felt needed to be further investigated to sift out anecdotes from factual data. EMS has embraced evidenced based practices and medicine over the past decade more than ever and this group wanted to continue in the path of all those trailblazers to identify factual data on what we believed was a major issue within our industry. What we discovered is that sexual misconduct does appear to be an issue in EMS, however, what was more startling was that females found this to be a major issue while males (in a male-dominated field), downplayed the issue or did not consider it a problem whatsoever.

Introduction

Since the inception of modern EMS in 1966, the culture of sexual misconduct, sexual innuendos and quid pro quo has long been an acknowledged and accepted vail over the face of the industry, according to the authors of the study.
Since the inception of modern EMS in 1966, the culture of sexual misconduct, sexual innuendos and quid pro quo has long been an acknowledged and accepted vail over the face of the industry, according to the authors of the study. (Photo/Getty Images)

It is your first day with a new partner. You are super excited; they are an experienced medic that you should learn a lot from. As you come into shift, they are there waiting and greet you with a smile. They say that they are excited to work with you. The shift goes on, calls come and go. At the end of the shift, your partner says, “Good shift” and comes in for a hug. Weird, but harmless you think. The next shift starts off about the same. Into the shift, your partner starts to ask your opinion about some self-portrait pictures they took. Once again, weird but harmless right? As shifts come and go things start to make you feel more uncomfortable. There are the inappropriate jokes, a touch of the hand, a soft touch to your back, and of course the hugs at the end of shift. You ask around and others say, “That’s just how they are.” Then, one shift your partner corners you in the stock room and says, “I want you now.” You push back and say, “no.” They then say, “You really want to say no to me? I have been here a long time. I can make your life hell.”

These types of incidents happen every day in EMS companies. We are an organization in which members become extremely close with one another. You will spend more time with your partner than with your loved ones. There are times like this example that people will take advantage of and begin to act inappropriately. People will not say anything when things happen to them because others say, “That’s just how they are,” or because they are afraid of backlash from fellow coworkers.

But the real question is, when does something go too far? Is it that first hug, the inappropriate joke, or not until a sexual advance occurs? Sexual misconduct is a sensitive subject to talk about. But if we do not talk about it, then nothing will ever change.

Sexual misconduct in EMS: Research results and data analysis

Introduction. The culture of EMS, with providers who share a passion for the industry, similar interests and proven similar qualities and characteristics, when factored in with extensive periods of close contact in stressful situations, creates and fosters a culture in which sexual misconduct is not only prevalent, but a widely accepted stigma throughout the industry. Previous to this study, this notion was considered anecdotal, however, as we are prepared to show in our research, is now factual. It was the goal of this research study to validate that hypothesis, to quantify the incidences and to report the findings.

Hypothesis. Ambulance Service Manager students from Group 3 of the Spring 2021 class set out to prove that sexual misconduct is a significant issue plaguing the EMS industry, so much so that it is often ignored, overlooked or – in some cases – accepted culture. We believe that sexual misconduct is more prevalent and more systemic than what appears superficially.

Data. Research was conducted in an online anonymous platform, “Survey Monkey.” The survey was distributed via social media platforms (Facebook, LinkedIn), and through local, state and National EMS networks via various distribution groups. The survey yielded 705 respondents from various cities, states and towns across the continental U.S. between Mar. 31, 2021-Apr. 17, 2021. Results returned yielded an average response rate of 39.167 responses per day. The average age group of respondents was 35-44, with the average age being 36 years and 11 months.

Of the respondents, 60% (423) were male and 38% (266) were female, and the remaining 2% (15) chose not to identify. The study revealed that 56% (391) of respondents did not feel that sexual misconduct was a major issue facing the EMS industry. However, when filtered to just females, 61% (163) of females did believe sexual misconduct is a major issue plaguing the industry. When respondents were asked if they have ever felt uncomfortable around a coworker because of comments they made, 51% (358) said yes. When the data was filtered, 69% (184) females said yes. The data continued to trend in a similar fashion throughout the survey. Most males did not consider sexual misconduct an issue in EMS, while a majority of females did.


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Analysis. What our research concluded was that sexual misconduct does appear to have statistical value of being a major issue in EMS. However, what will need to be further investigated is why there is such disparity in how gender plays a role in this discussion. The facts are that male respondents believed overall that sexual misconduct in EMS was a misnomer or a non-issue. We believe this further amplifies our belief that, in a male-dominated field, that the majority of the industry believes that a traditionally male-negative stigma is silenced. However, without specific data on gender bias, our observations are relatively not supported at this time.

Conclusion. Since the inception of modern EMS in 1966, the culture of sexual misconduct, sexual innuendos and quid pro quo has long been an acknowledged and accepted vail over the face of the industry. We hope that this inquiry and introspective reflection of our industry will initiate genuine conversations for change. We hope that our industry will strive to have a professional presence.

About the authors

Donald Deardorff, Xavier De La Rosa, Aaron Hernandez, Josh Single and Blake Taylor are members of the Fitch & Associates Ambulance Service Manager Course Spring 2021 Group 3. Group 3 was comprised of four EMS professionals with various leadership experiences in prehospital care from Texas, Louisiana, Pennsylvania and Ohio. 

The group decided to take on this daunting subject matter, and though they met resistance when they discussed the project publicly, they decided to pursue the idea in a pursuit to lift the veil of the industry and improve workforce conditions for all providers.  Group 3 was honored and humbled to be selected to present on this subject matter that is at the very least controversial at the Pinnacle EMS Leadership Forum.   

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