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Sexual harassment within Victoria Police could cost millions with almost 1000 alleged victims

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UPDATE: CHIEF Commissioner Graham Ashton has “unreservedly” apologised for the sexual abuse and harassment Victoria Police officers have suffered within the force, as the State Government vows to help compensate victims in a move that could cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.

Mr Ashton told 3AW that officers found guilty of criminal misconduct and predatory behaviour would be sacked.

“Unreservedly I apologise for the discrimination that has occurred, both to current serving employees and past employees for the experiences,” Mr Ashton said in a press conference today.

“It’s important that we commit to doing the work from today, so that future chief commissioners don’t have to make that apology.

“Every (member) must be treated with equality and with respect.

“The need for change is there. The appetite for change is there.”

The 943 Victoria Police employees who recently told the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC) they suffered sexual predatory behaviour, sexual harassment or sex discrimination at the hands of fellow officers are expected to each be eligible to apply for up to $50,000.

The VEOHRC report released today recommended setting up a reparation scheme to help victims.

VEOHRC Commissioner Kate Jenkins said in the press conference that many female police officers felt “sidelined and disillusioned” and were “broken by the experience” of sexual harassment in the force.

She commended Victoria Police for both commissioning the report and offering full access to investigators.

She said the findings were “shocking”.

“(They were) really a call for action,” she said.

“Under-reporting was significant.”

Mr Ashton said the report contained “ugly revelations”.

Police Minister Wade Noonan told 3AW that the State Government would work with Victoria Police to create a compensation scheme.

“If people need to be compensated they will be compensated and we’ll work with Victoria Police to ensure that happens,” he said.

He said the allegations in the report were both disturbing and confronting.

“It’s made very clear that there aren’t just a few bad apples, there are many bad apples and one of the pathways forward will be for Victoria Police to be able to streamline their disciplinary process and weed out those individuals.”

More victims are expected to come forward after Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius announced police will have access to 24-hour support without having to express their concerns in the workplace.

Mr Cornelius said officers who would have previously had to file an official complaint before receiving support – resulting in a low reporting rate - would no longer have to go through that process.

“We needed to establish a safe space for all those who have experienced workplace harm,” he said today.

“That is up and running as of today … a 24/7 hotline where serving members who would not otherwise made complaints (can do so).

“An officer who has experienced harassment can contact that service and seek specialist support for themselves and their family. Before, members could only access support and specialist advice after they’ve made a complaint. They might then feel safe and supported to tell us.”

The Police Association said the report should be a catalyst for change and offered to help Victoria Police implement the recommendations.

“Victoria Police like other modern organisations must move its culture in line with today’s community standards,” secretary Ron Iddles said.

“Harassment and discrimination, of any type, must be stamped out and should never be swept under the carpet.”

Mr Iddles said the complaints system was inadequate for members.

“The culture was if you raised an issue the first port of call was often to your supervisor, and your supervisor would ostracise you,” he said.

“The whole process of reporting complaints was flawed.”

“The whole process is about to change... It’s about giving the victim

some power and some choice about what the resolution should look like.”

Mr Iddles said members experiencing harassment or discrimination didn’t always want their colleagues to be sacked.

“Some of them that I’ve spoken to have said ‘I just want the behaviour to stop. I don’t want that person to be sacked’,” Mr Iddles said.

BAD BEHAVIOUR AT THE HIGHEST LEVELS

Mr Ashton yesterday sent a video message to every one of his 17,000 staff in which he personally outlined the problem and explained why the culture of the force has to change dramatically so women are treated as equals.

Mr Ashton told the Herald Sun he was determined to stamp out the systemic sexual behaviour exposed in the VEOHRC report and vowed to implement all of the 20 recommendations in it.

“I am obviously saddened by the fact so many of our employees have had to go through that experience,” Mr Ashton said.

Several female Victoria Police employees recently told the VEOHRC they were sexually harassed by currently serving senior ranking police officers.

The women said they were “distressed and disappointed” that the high profile perpetrators were still being allowed to represent the force in public and in the media.

One senior Victoria Police executive told the VEOHRC its review of sexual victimisation and abuse in the force had to focus on his fellow senior officers if it was to be taken seriously.

“There are still behaviours at the highest level that are not called and if those are not called, people will laugh at the review,” the executive said.

The 366 page VEOHRC report — which has been seen by the Herald Sun — said the review team had heard “many examples of managers who were sexually opportunistic, inappropriate and engaged in unlawful behaviours”.

“In a few cases, managers have been promoted to very senior levels within Victoria Police — notwithstanding their own behaviour,” the report said.

Several female Victoria Police employees who recently responded to a VEOHRC survey said they had been raped by a colleague — or attempts had been made to rape or sexually assault them — in just the past five years.

The report said a further 10 force employees had personally witnessed police subject colleagues to “actual or attempted rape or sexual assault”.

“After the rape I was in a stupor for the next 24 hours, I knew I had been drugged with rohypnol or something,” one of the raped officers said.

Mr Ashton vowed to go after any officer — no matter how senior — if complaints were made against them.

He revealed his is seeking greater powers to sack and discipline officers involved in predatory and other sexual behaviour.

“I would like my powers to be clearer about how I can deal with people in that situation,” Mr Ashton said.

“They are cumbersome and they take too long and are far more complex that they need to be.”

The VEOHRC was asked by Victoria Police to undertake the independent review after senior police recognised such unacceptable behaviour was out of control.

Ms Jenkins yesterday praised former chief commissioner Ken Lay for coming to the VEOHRC for help after recognising inappropriate sexual behaviour was rife within Victoria Police.

She also told the Herald Sun Mr Ashton deserved the utmost respect for his “genuine determination” to do whatever it takes to clean up the force.

“Victoria Police is showing strong leadership in tackling sex discrimination and sexual harassment through this review to ensure a safe and respectful workplace for all Victoria Police employees,” Ms Jenkins said.

“In commissioning this review, Victoria Police has taken a courageous step in offering transparency on the issues of the treatment of women in the organisation.

“This should offer the community confidence in the credibility of leadership; and of the many excellent police employees who want to drive change and promote safety and respect for their colleagues and in the broader community.”

Mr Ashton explained in the VEOHRC report why the force went to the independent agency to find out how widespread sexual victimisation was within Victoria Police and for advice on how best to fix the problem in a transparent way so as not to be accused of sweeping it under the carpet.

“We could have undertaken an internal review but that wouldn’t have led to systemic change,” he said.

“We need to change more quickly. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

Mr Ashton has agreed to implement all 20 recommendations made by in the VEOHRC report.

Those recommendations include:

APOLOGISING to the hundreds of victims in the force and setting up a redress program to compensate them and provide counselling.

EXECUTIVE command establishing an independent advisory structure to guide the implementation of the recommendations and that this body meet quarterly with the chief commissioner.

REVIEW and update all relevant policies and procedures to ensure they are compliant with legal obligations and provide clear direction for managers to respond effectively to workplace harm and build gender equitable and diverse workplaces.

AMEND and review all arrangements relating to flexible work.

IMPROVE arrangements relating to promotion pathways for women.

IMMEDIATE establishment of an external “safe space” to provide confidential support to victims and targets of workplace harm.

The VEOHRC will audit Victoria Police’s implementation of the recommendations in May 2017 and again in May 2018.

It will report on what the force has done to fix the problems exposed in today’s report.

The damning VEOHRC report will also reveal:

ALMOST 5000 Victoria Police employees completed a VEOHRC survey designed to measure the level of sexual harassment, sex discrimination and predatory sexual behaviour being committed by police against other police.

THAT survey found most of the officers sexually harassing and abusing female force employees were supervisors and managers.

THE disturbingly high level of sexual harassment within Victoria Police — with almost 40 per cent of female survey respondents telling the VEOHRC they were victims of it — was worse than that suffered by women in the notoriously bad Australian Defence Force.

POLICE bosses whose sexual advances were knocked back by junior female members have punished their subordinates by putting negative comments on their professional development assessment forms.

MORE than 160 female Victoria Police employees recently told the VEOHRC they had personally witnessed predatory behaviour by police — which they defined as police misusing their authority or position to manipulate circumstances or people to gain sexual or other personal gratification for themselves or others.

ALMOST 30 per cent of the female Victoria Police employees who responded to the survey said such illegal predatory behaviour by police against colleagues was common.

POLICE academy instructors have been accused of abusing their power over recruits by pressuring them for sexual favours.

THE widespread condoning of sexual harassment and an entrenched culture of everyday sexism in the force has left many current and former Victoria Police officers harmed, sidelined and deeply disillusioned.

INAPPROPRIATE workplace behaviour or sexual harassment within the force — even physical or sexual assaults — are chronically under-reported because mentioning them was seen by most police to be an act of disloyalty to “the team”.

VICTORIA Police employees who do report being sexual victimised are often ostracised, shamed and physically and emotionally abused by other police.

MALE promiscuity is tolerated and often celebrated in Victoria Police workplaces.

A VICTORIA Police officer used a video camera to record a women’s change room in a Victoria Police workplace.

HOMOPHOBIA and sexuality based hostility is widespread in the force.

REPORT REVEALS DISTURBING TREND

The VEOHRC report highlights how sexually inappropriate and criminal behaviour by some Victoria Police officers has been rewarded rather than punished.

In a move similar to the Catholic Church’s shocking habit of moving paedophile priests from parish to parish, the force has shifted offenders from station to station instead of sacking or disciplining them.

Some of those officers committed further sex offences after being transferred.

“The review was made aware of perpetrators who were transferred following sexual harassment and other inappropriate behaviour, to continue their offending in the new workplace and in some cases targeting community members,” the VEOHRC report said.

“In the cases the review was informed about, the new workplace was not made aware of the problematic conduct and instead was given positive references about the person.

“This process was referred to by more than one participant as ‘dressing them up for export’.

“There is a widespread view that discipline processes are not applied equally across all sectors of the workforce, with higher ranks/grades appearing to be immune to discipline and sanction.

“A number of participants also talked about an apparent phenomenon of rewarding or compensating senior personnel who had been subject to investigation for complaints.

“Such ‘rewards’ included promotion, upgrading and transfer to more desirable roles.”

Victoria Police was also accused in the VEOHRC report of allowing officers to resign instead of charging them with criminal or discipline offences.

“The review heard that a number of personnel who were subject to discipline inquiries for sexual harassment and sex offences have recently resigned while under investigation,” the report said.

“On resigning, these people receive all their entitlements (superannuation, long service leave etc), which also occurs if they are dismissed.

“The review understands that members who resign under investigation are not provided with the customary certificate of service, rather they may be issued with a statement of service.

“These practices serve to send perpetrators out into the community with the credibility of a career in policing and almost no means of a future employer or other interested party (for example, volunteer organisations) being made aware of the fact they resigned under investigation.”

The report found many female Victoria Police employees just put up with inappropriate sexual behaviour because they either feared reporting it or believed their complaint would not be acted on.

“The high level of tolerance for sexism and sexual harassment in the workplace, especially among supervisors (inspectors and superintendents) and managers (sergeants and senior sergeants), clearly undermines the confidence that women had to speak up or come forward with a complaint,” the report said.

“Women also experienced sex discrimination in Victoria Police in recruitment, retention and promotion processes.

“This was reflected particularly in the attitudes towards and treatment of women who became pregnant, took parental leave, returned to work after parental leave and women and men who sought access to flexible working arrangements or part time employment.

“The lack of representation of women within Victoria Police, and particularly at the management level, is extremely problematic.

“It is both a symptom of and contributing factor to sex discrimination and sexual harassment within the organisation.”

The report recommended an explicit target for recruitment “of at least 50 per cent women for future squads of police and protective service officers and remaining in force until equity is achieved”.

It detailed the devastating impacts that sex discrimination and sexual harassment has had on the personal and professional lives of Victoria Police employees.

“These include serious harm to physical and mental health, including depression and stress; isolation and exclusion within the workplace; economic loss and reduced opportunities for professional development and advancement,” the report said.

“Of extreme concern was the number of people who reported thoughts of suicide.

“Throughout this report, the evidence shows sex discrimination and sexual harassment to be prevalent and widespread in the organisation.

“This, combined with what appears to be a high level of tolerance and normalisation of sexism and sexual harassment in the workplace, will continue to exacerbate the problem until it is addressed in a comprehensive and strategic way.

“Victoria Police has been at the forefront of reforms that have significantly improved the experiences of women who are harmed in the community.

“However, as an organisation, if the opportunity offered by this review to extend that focus internally is not taken, it risks losing a leadership opportunity and falling behind expectations on gender equality.

“In assuming leadership, Victoria Police should anticipate backlash from employees who do not see value in a more diverse workplace and cannot adjust to a workplace that demands workplace equality and respect for women.

“Victoria Police will require a careful and comprehensive employee engagement process to ensure that women are not further victimised or disparaged and discriminated against in the wake of the review.”

‘THIS IS A THREE TO FIVE YEAR PROJECT’

Many male police officers are scared about their daughters following in their footsteps because they know colleagues will inevitably subject them to disgraceful sexual behaviour.

Mr Ashton has given Mr Cornelius the difficult task of tackling the entrenched sexist culture in Victoria Police.

He has been told to rid the force of the worst offenders and change the behaviour of the other employees who sexually harass colleagues and sexually discriminate against them.

Mr Cornelius wants to do so before his own daughter reaches the age where she can join up — and believes that turnaround will take between three to five years.

He said a lot of police officers with daughters in the force had recently expressed their fears to him about the sexist and predatory behaviour their daughters will suffer.

“Since Graham gave me this role I have had all sorts of people come and talk to me and share their story,” Mr Cornelius told the Herald Sun.

“And there’s one particular group that I have been talking to and that’s fathers who have got daughters in the job.

“I myself have got a daughter, she’s 13, and she said to me ‘dad I think I might be a police officer, what do you reckon?’ and I have said to my daughter ‘that’s lovely darling, but keep your options open’.

“If I am honest with myself, the reason why I am saying keep your options open is the same reason behind the story that all the dads who do have daughters in the job tell me.

“And they tell me that before their daughter started at the academy their daughter received a safety briefing.

“And you might have thought the safety briefing would be about how to handle yourself in the face of a violent offender; how to handle yourself in a high speed pursuit; or all of the other things that create risk in the policing profession.

“But no, the safety briefing consistently is ‘darling this is how you protect yourself from your male colleagues’.

“So this is the fireside chat that dads have with their daughters.

“For me, the most significant performance measure personally is that by the time my daughter gets to 18 and she says ‘dad I still want to be a police officer’ I am going to say ‘that’s fantastic darling, go for it’.

“This is a three to five year project for me.

“The awful truth is there is a level of tolerance and acceptance of bad behaviour in our workplace which in other workplaces I think would be more likely called out.

“The lack of respect and the lack of dignity with which our colleagues treat one other is pervasive.

“It’s not just a couple of isolated pockets; it’s not about a few dinosaurs.

“This is a pervasive issue that we all need to acknowledge and we all need to recognise the need that it’s got to be addressed.”

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