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Study Shows That Doctors Frequently Experience Sexual Harassment on Social Media

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A Pew Research Center study found that 41 percent of American adults have experienced harassment online, with one in five people reporting extreme online harassment, including sexual harassment. Additionally, a survey of 464 doctors showed that one in four physicians who use social media had been personally attacked. These attacks ranged from ridicule surrounding a doctor’s stance on vaccinations and mask-wearing to religious, racial, and ethnic slurs.

This same survey found that one in six female physicians faced the additional threat of virtual sexual harassment, often through sexually explicit messages or pornographic images. Some even reported threats of rape, negative reviews, exposure of personal information, and death threats.

What is Virtual Sexual Harassment?

Virtual sexual harassment generally takes two forms. The first form is when the victim receives unwanted materials of a sexual nature, such as pictures, videos, cartoons, or narratives. The second form is when disparaging or sexual content is posted about the victim online. Virtual sexual harassment is the same as verbal or physical workplace sexual harassment except that it happens online or electronically.

How Do I Know if I am Being Sexually Harassed Online?

Any unwelcome sexually explicit content that is posted or transmitted online or electronically can be considered virtual sexual harassment, including the following:

  • Text messages
  • Email messages
  • Instant messages
  • Online forums
  • Intranets or popular internal messaging apps
  • Photographs
  • Social media or other online posts and comments

Sexual harassment on social media includes:

  • Comments or rumors regarding the victim’s sexuality or sexual activities.
  • Sexual or gender-based comments to describe the victim.
  • Sexually explicit photos shared without the victim’s consent.
  • Comments, pictures, cartoons, or jokes of sexual nature.
  • Requests or threats for sexual favors.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act governs sexual harassment as a form of illegal gender discrimination. It does not protect against every questionable sexual comment; however, it does prevent sexual harassment that happens so frequently or is so severe that it creates an offensive, intimidating, or hostile work environment. Title VII also prevents quid pro quo requests, such as the promise of work, raises, promotion, or other terms or conditions of employment in exchange for sexual favors.

Why are Doctors Sexually Harassed?

Many doctors are speaking out more on social media to promote vaccinations or safe pandemic behaviors, such as wearing masks and social distancing. This increased online presence can increase digital harassment, sexual or otherwise.

It is important to note that virtual sexual harassment of doctors does not always happen on social media. In the study of 464 doctors, many women doctors reported being sexually harassed by a colleague, superior, professor, teacher, or trainer while in medical school or during internships, residencies, and fellowships. This type of workplace harassment can still happen electronically through sexually suggestive emails, texts, video chats or meetings, and other electronic workplace or academic-based communications.

Why am I Being Sexually Harassed Online?

Virtual sexual harassment typically occurs because the offender wants to intimidate, shame, or control the victim. The difference between in-person and virtual sexual harassment is that the offender masks their identity online, making it easier to harass the victim. Also, online harassers often do not view their victims as real people but rather online personas. It is also easier to post something online than say it directly to someone, so online harassment tends to be very traumatic and often promotes a gang-like mentality, encouraging others to join in.

Among doctors, the harassment may be a form of retaliation from a bad medical experience or even a rebuffed romantic or sexual overture. A harasser knows that a doctor’s reputation is crucial. Also, due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, more doctors than ever are using social media to disseminate facts and information and to promote safe behaviors, opening themselves up to increased harassment.

What Should I Do if I am Being Sexually Harassed on Social Media?

Social media and other forms of virtual harassment often leaves a built-in data trail, unlike other forms of harassment. Like any other person, a doctor that is harassed online should do the following:

  • Demand that the harasser stops.
  • Keep screenshots and copies of all communications from the harasser and the offending emails, instant messages, comments, videos, or photographs.
  • Report the harassment to the social media platform. Social media platforms have ways to report abusive or harassing comments or people.

In the workplace, report the harassment to a supervisor and the employer’s Human Resources (HR) department if one is being virtually harassed by a colleague or superior. Also, contact a lawyer if the harassment does not stop.

How can I Prevent Virtual Sexual Harassment?

It is important to stay informed about laws and prevention. Know what constitutes sexual harassment, whether it is verbal, physical, or virtual. Report any instance of sexual harassment experienced or observed in the workplace.

It is vital to know the laws regarding sexual harassment and one’s rights. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace.

How can a Lawyer Help Me?

Although employers are required to investigate sexual harassment complaints and take steps to stop the harassment, their actions are not always thorough or effective. Anyone who feels they have been virtually sexually harassed, especially doctors, should immediately consult a lawyer. A victim can contact a lawyer before they report the harassment to their employer.

A lawyer can assist the victim with the following:

  • Determine if the behavior was sexual harassment as defined by federal and state law.
  • Decide how to respond to the harassment.
  • Help formulate responses to the harasser, both personal and legal.
  • Document the harassment, including social media posts, comments, text messages, videos, photographs, and instant messages.
  • Understand the employer’s, organization’s, or social media platform’s policies and procedures regarding sexual harassment and reporting harassment.
  • Assist in reporting the virtual sexual harassment in the right terms to the proper authorities.
  • Ensure that the employer or other organization is effectively and thoroughly investigating the sexual harassment as required by law.
  • Present the formal legal actions the victim can take and the advantages and disadvantages of each.
  • Prepare for negotiations or trial if legal options are pursued.
  • Help the victim protect themselves against future harassment.
  • Prevent retaliation in the workplace for reporting the illegal conduct.
  • Serve as an objective, non-emotional third party with the victim’s best interests at heart.

Cherry Hill Employment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Help Workers Who are Experiencing Sexual Harassment on Social Media

Our Cherry Hill employment lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. know the rights of sexual harassment victims. Our legal team can help you with your case. For more information and a free consultation, contact us online or call us at 215-569-1999. Located in Pennsauken, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Cherry Hill, Haddonfield, Marlton, Moorestown, and Mount Laurel.

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