Sexual harassment within dental offices in Washington State

J Dent Hyg. 1992 May;66(4):178-84.


Sexual harassment has been identified as a significant problem for women in the work force today. The purpose of this pilot study was to provide a preliminary assessment of the perceived problem of sexual harassment of registered dental hygienists (RDHs) in Washington State. The specific aim of the fall 1990 study was to examine the following variables: incidence of sexual harassment in the dental workplace; frequency and severity; perpetrators; perceptions of the general seriousness of harassment in the oral healthcare professions; different actions taken by victims following harassment; known incidents in the workplace; and demographic characteristics of respondents, including career age, educational level, type of oral healthcare practice setting, and birth year. Data were gathered from a 30% random sample of 2,138 registered dental hygienists in Washington State (n = 650) by means of a questionnaire. An initial mailing plus one follow-up mailing yielded a 72.6% (n = 472) response rate. Examination of the returned surveys disclosed that 26.3% of the respondents had personally experienced one or more forms of sexual harassment in their work settings. The most frequently reported types of sexual harassment perpetrated by both employer and patient were, as defined by Cooper, "aesthetic appreciation" and "active mental groping," followed by "social touching" and "sexual abuse," with "ultimate threat" reported least. Fifty-four percent of the harassed respondents (all women) indicated that they had been harassed by male dentists/employers, and 37.1% reported they had been harassed by male patients, with the remaining 8% harassed by coworkers and others. More severe types of harassment were perpetrated by dentists/employers.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Dental Hygienists*
  • Dentists
  • Employee Grievances*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Patients
  • Pilot Projects
  • Sexual Behavior*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Washington
  • Women, Working*