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Toward an understanding of sexual harassment in neurosurgery

Deborah L. Benzil, Karin M. Muraszko, Pranay Soni, Ellen L. Air, Katie O. Orrico, and James T. Rutka


The goal of this study was the creation and administration of a survey to assess the depth and breadth of sexual harassment across neurosurgery.


A survey was created to 1) assess perceived attitudes toward systemic issues that might be permissive of sexual harassment; 2) measure the reported prevalence and severity of sexual harassment; and 3) determine the populations at highest risk and those most likely to perpetrate sexual harassment. Demographic information was also included to facilitate further analysis. The SurveyMonkey platform was used, and a request to complete the survey was sent to all Society of Neurological Surgeons and Congress of Neurological Surgeons (CNS) active and resident members as well as CNS transitional, emeritus, and inactive members. Data were analyzed using RStudio version 1.2.5019.


Nearly two-thirds of responders indicated having witnessed sexual harassment in some form (62%, n = 382). Males were overwhelmingly identified as the offenders in allegations of sexual harassment (72%), with individuals in a “superior position” identified as offenders in 86%. Less than one-third of responders addressed the incidents of sexual harassment when they happened (yes 31%, no 62%, unsure 7%). Of those who did report, most felt there was either no impact or a negative one (negative: 34%, no impact: 38%). Almost all (85%) cited barriers to taking action about sexual harassment, including retaliation/retribution (87%), impact on future career (85%), reputation concerns (72%), and associated stress (50%). Female neurosurgeons were statistically more likely than male neurosurgeons to report witnessing or experiencing sexual harassment, as well as assessing it as a problem.


This study demonstrates that neurosurgeons report significant sexual harassment across all ages and practice settings. Sexual harassment impacts both men and women, with more than half personally subjected to this behavior and two-thirds having witnessed it. Male dominance, a hierarchical environment, and a permissive environment remain prevalent within the neurosurgical community. This is not just a historical problem, but it continues today. A change of culture will be required for neurosurgery to shed this mantle, which must include zero tolerance of this behavior, new policies, awareness of unconscious bias, and commitment to best practices to enhance diversity. Above all, it will require that all neurosurgeons and neurosurgical leaders develop an awareness of sexual harassment in the workplace and establish consistent mechanisms to mitigate against its highly deleterious effects in the specialty.