Just 12 officers disciplined for sexual harassment in past five years

The Age Logo

Premier Daniel Andrews has promised to financially back a compensation scheme that will assist up to 1000 victims of workplace sexual abuse and discrimination within the police force in the wake of a damning report.

The pledge followed an unreserved apology from police chief Graham Ashton for the harm done to members in response to a report that laid bare endemic sexual harassment, discrimination and in some cases serious sexual assaults, within the force.

Mr Ashton said the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission report commissioned by police was a "watershed, landmark piece of work and that is to tackle an issue that has been endemic in our society, across all sectors of society, and as we found, was endemic in Victoria Police".

The VEOHRC interviewed nearly 5000 employees for what is believed to be one of the largest workplace sexual harassment studies in the world.

Over the past five years alone, 477 respondents said they had been sexually harassed by colleagues, with up to 10 saying they were victims of serious sexual assaults, including rape.

But data from Victoria Police revealed that only 12 officers had been disciplined since 2010 over harassment or predatory behaviour, revealing a shameful culture of coercion, cover-ups and silence.

The report found that, like the Catholic Church, the force had moved perpetrators from station to station, covering up abuse and harassment, while victims who spoke up were treated as disloyal to "the team" and ostracised and shamed, with some even facing physical and emotional abuse.

Mr Andrews said it "may be more than 1000 people" who seek compensation over their experiences serving in the force.

"The predatory culture within Victoria Police is completely unacceptable to every fair-minded Victorian and I'm confident though that Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton with the strong support of our government will stamp this out," he said.

"We will support Victoria Police with whatever resources they need to make sure that Victoria Police members are safe ... those who protect us need significant protection, it would seem, and we are prepared to provide that."

Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius, who has been appointed to implement change, conceded existing disciplinary procedures had failed and required a dramatic overhaul.

He confirmed previous internal investigations that had cleared officers of harassment had been reopened. He expects Taskforce Salus to lay further charges over historical attacks that had been covered up or not properly investigated.

He said the organisation would move beyond a complaint-led focus, which put the onus on the victim, to a "model where in fact the organisation takes responsibility for addressing these behaviours and first and foremost, it adopt an approach which provides support, specialist services and redress to victims of this harmful behaviour".

"At the moment, there are far too many instances, where the perpetrator is called out and the disciplinary system actually supports the perpetrator, not the victim, which is simply unacceptable," Mr Cornelius said.

Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner Kate Jenkins commended all those who shared their experiences, as well as the police for wanting a "change" and commissioning the report.

She said "profound organisational change" and a "complete cultural reset" was required.

"The prevalence of harassment reflects a serious problem for women in our community and a problem that is invisible in so many parts of our society.

Two 24-7 hotlines for police officers will be operating from Wednesday.

The first is an independent hotline run by Davidson Trahaire Corpsych, an external provider that has been working with the Australian Defence Force for the last two years.

Members who would not otherwise make complaints for fear of reprisal and concern about lack of support can call the hotline on 1300 364 522.

The second workplace-harm hotline, 1800 598 846, is run out of the workplace standards unit and will refer members to either PSC Taskforce Salus or welfare support.

Full Story