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Caregivers subject to sexual harassment

In an office setting, the policy can be clear — no touching in the workplace. But when your workplace is your client's home or room and your duties include providing personal care to them, those lines are blurred and ineffective. After all, touching your client is part of your job description. It can't be avoided, and therefore, is subject to misinterpretation by the clients.

Dementia patients frequently misinterpret the gentle ministrations of caregivers during bathing and grooming tasks for something of a sexual nature. Despite their faltering memories, some dementia patients can remain surprisingly strong and even overpower their caregivers.

One caregiver reported that as she changed the clothing of her 92-year-old male patient, he attempted to touch her in a sexual manner. She had to verbally dissuade him by reminding him she was a caregiver and not a lover.

Those who work in the field of health care experience more nonfatal workplace violence than those working in other industries, a George Washington University associate professor discovered while during research for the university's physical therapy program. Physical therapists, nurses and other caregivers have as much as 16 times the risk of an unwelcome encounter with a patient.

The professor found that female physical therapists have over twice the chance of being subject to inappropriate sexual behavior from their patients than their male counterparts.

The American Nurses Association's director of work environment says that nurses must recognize and report on-the-job harassment from patients. She said, "If there's a message we could get out to 3.6 million nurses, it's 'We need you to report. Be empowered. Report.''

If you experience harassment from patients you care for and report it, your employer must take steps to keep you safe. If they fail to step up and protect you, you may be entitled to seek financial compensation for any damages or injuries that you suffer.

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