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Is an RN being sexually harassed by a patient who insists on being wiped after toileting even though she is fully capable of doing this for herself?

Tuesday March 18, 2014
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Dear Donna,

Am I being sexually harassed by a patient who insists I wipe her after toileting even though she is fully capable of doing this for herself? I always understood we were not to touch a patient's genital area except in the course of an exam or to provide treatments or cleaning they are unable to provide for themselves. I feel that this is a boundary violation of some sort.

Feels Harassed

Dear Donna replies:

Dear Feels Harassed,

It is always challenging for me to respond to a question like this without knowing all the details such as the patient’s age, mental status, medical condition and setting (home, hospital, etc.). However, although I am not an attorney, based on the limited information you provided, it does not sound like a case of sexual harassment. Just because the patient asks you to do something, you are not obligated to do it. Part of your role as a professional nurse is to set boundaries and enable/empower the patient to do things for themselves if indeed they are able to do so in an effective and safe manner. You are responsible to create a therapeutic environment, promote patient autonomy and manage the care.

You should speak to your supervisor and/or the primary care provider (physician, nurse practitioner) about the situation as soon as possible for some advice and support. If you feel the request is being made in a sexual context, it also needs to be reported as soon as possible.

Best wishes,


Donna Cardillo, RN, MA, well-known career guru, is Nurse.com’s “Dear Donna” and author of “Your First Year as a Nurse: Making the Transition from Total Novice to Successful Professional” and “The ULTIMATE Career Guide for Nurses: Practical Advice for Thriving at Every Stage of Your Career.” Information about the books is available at www.Nurse.com/CE/7010 and www.Nurse.com/CE/7250, respectively. To ask Donna your question, go to www.Nurse.com/Asktheexperts/Deardonna. Find a “Dear Donna” seminar near you: Call 800-866-0919 or visit http://www. Nurse.com/Events.