Cole, M., Baldwin, D.S. and Thomas, P.
Sexual assault on wards. Staff actions and reactions.
Journal of Psychiatry in Clinical Practice, 7, (4), . (doi:10.1080/13651500310002355).
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INTRODUCTION The aim of the study was to look at staff practices when patients had been sexually assaulted, and to look at their emotions around an event that normally causes outrage amongst those who deal with it.
METHODS A 16-item, five-point questionnaire was supplied to all medical and nursing staff working on five wards of a psychiatric inpatient unit. Demographic details of respondents and their work experience of sexual assault (defined as all forms of sexual touching without consent, including rape) were also noted. There were four additional questions inviting a free text response. Two questions were posed about inpatient sexuality in general, and two about sexual assault.
RESULTS Staff generally agreed about what action should be taken in cases of sexual assault and, except for anger, experienced low levels of negative emotions when dealing with cases amongst patients. However, weariness was a key emotion, correlating with post held, levels of anger, depression, and likelihood of helping the patients inform the police. Consultants were the most weary professional group. Free text written responses revealed widespread concern amongst staff that women inpatients forming sexual relationships are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, and that staff will be blamed in the event of sexual assault.
CONCLUSION Policy documents should specifically address issues around staff intervention in inpatients' sexual lives.
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