Statement from Dr Tony Sara, President, ASMOF – the Doctors' Union

Our Union staunchly opposes sexual harassment and sexual violence and considers it a top-priority workplace safety concern for our members. ASMOF is unwavering in its commitment to combat all manifestations of sexual harassment or violence in the workplace.

Today, The Guardian published an article highlighting the vulnerability of doctors who are women to sexual assault, featuring some of the comments I made. In my attempt to address the challenges of reporting and addressing these issues in the workplace, I have been seen to minimise the experiences of doctors. My comments have faced valid criticism from colleagues and our members.

I sincerely apologise to our members who expect strong leadership from male allies. I take this feedback very seriously and wish to clarify our Union's stance on this issue.

It is imperative to emphasise that sexual harassment remains distressingly prevalent among doctors at their workplaces. According to our 2019 survey of 301 doctors, 55% of doctors who are women reported experiencing sexual harassment in their professional settings. Furthermore, almost one third (29%) of all doctors, irrespective of gender, disclosed instances where they observed sexual harassment in their workplaces.

This is unacceptable.

Our Union recognises the alarming risks doctors face when reporting incidents of sexual harassment. According to ASMOF's survey, an overwhelming majority of doctors who have encountered sexual harassment (84%) chose not to report it. Our members have expressed deep concerns about the potential impact on their careers, especially for doctors in training, who are in the early stages of their professional journey and heavily reliant on their supervisors to advance.

We need a cultural transformation in our profession. We need zero tolerance for sexual harassment and sexual violence. Undeniably, the hierarchical structure within the medical environment, coupled with high levels of representation of men in senior positions, poses specific risks to doctors who are women. These risks are further exacerbated by the competitive atmosphere and the prevalence of short-term employment contracts.

We frequently receive feedback from our members regarding the stress associated with formal complaints and investigations and the lack of transparency in the outcomes. While our branches in each state and territory offer support to doctors throughout this process, we acknowledge the existence of numerous flaws with the investigative procedures used by their employers. We are actively addressing these issues at the local level to bring about necessary improvements.

Doctors' rights at work

ASMOF firmly believes that doctors should have legally protected rights to a workplace free from harassment and violence and should have fair and equitable conditions enshrined within their industrial agreements.

Additionally, we demand that health services across Australia take proactive and comprehensive measures to ensure their workplaces remain free from sexual harassment. These measures should encompass:

  1. Education and Awareness: This includes initiatives such as bystander education to raise awareness and promote a culture of respect.
  2. Safe, Transparent, and Independent Reporting: Implementing internal reporting mechanisms that are both secure and transparent, with a commitment to taking meaningful action when instances of misconduct are identified.
  3. Clear and Communicated Guidelines and Policies: Establishing unambiguous guidelines and policies that are effectively communicated to all staff members.

Our Union proudly fights for workplaces free from sexual harassment. I deeply regret any unintended impact my previous reported comments may have had, which may have undermined the dedicated efforts of our staff and members throughout Australia, who are tirelessly working to transform the medical culture and enhance employer practices.

Furthermore, I want to reassure our members that ASMOF provides sensitive and confidential support to any doctor who has experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.

If you would like to provide feedback to me directly, I encourage you to contact me at [email protected].


26 September 2023