A review by the Equal Opportunity Commission, released by SA Police this morning, contains appalling reports of sexual harassment in the state’s police force.
It recommends sweeping changes to deal with a workplace culture where sexual harassment is “seen as being acceptable and normalised”.
Almost 2000 SA Police staff responded to a confidential online survey and several gave testimony in confidential interviews for the review, which was launched in April.
In total, 45 per cent of respondents said they had been discriminated against because of their gender and 36 per cent said they had been the victim of sexual harassment in SA Police.
The review found that there is significant under-reporting of sexual harassment and sex discrimination in SA Police, victimisation of those who do complain and a belief that there would be no consequences for perpetrators if harassment and discrimination are reported.
It found that while the level of sexual harassment in SA Police was similar to prevalence in other workplaces, the frequency of “predatory behaviour” was higher than the Australian average.
Participants in the review reported that women were “routinely referred to as ‘trouble makers’, ‘bitches’ and ‘lesbians’” at SAPOL, and putting up with such behaviour was considered “part of the job”.
“SAPOL is the most highly sexualised workpace I have ever come across,” one respondent told the review.
“From my very first day, my boss made a comment full of sexual innuendo … at other times he would stare at my body. I asked him one time at work ‘are you staring at my breasts’ [and] he said ‘yes, I find it comforting’.”
Another said that SAPOL “rewards bad behaviour by promoting men who behave unacceptably into higher positions, sometimes in the very work areas in which they have been complained about”.
“It is deeply disappointing to me that I continue to see first-hand at least one senior man who is a known predator and bully getting moved and promoted”.
Another respondent recalled that when a new senior team member started at SAPOL, he made persistent sexual comments and sent constant inappropriate text messages.
“He would tell me things like I want to ‘impregnate you’,” the staff member said in a response the survey.
“I told him to pull his head in. I wasn’t interested. I started getting more and more text messages including comments about his penis”.
One confidential interviewee reported that: “Everyone knows there are higher ranked police members who use their positions to pursue younger female constables”.
“Everyone knows about it, everyone talks about it, but nothing gets done about it.”
Stevens told reporters he was determined that SA Police tackle its “boys’ club” culture, accepting all 38 recommendations of the review.
He said he was “shocked” and “ashamed” by the findings of the review, adding that he was grateful to those who had shared their experiences with the review.
In his written introduction to the report, Stevens says “I deeply regret that some of our people have been victimised and I am ashamed that some of our own staff are responsible for this unwelcome, objectionable and sometimes unlawful behaviour”.
“I am extremely disappointed that some of those complainants have not been properly supported, and, in some cases, not believed.
“I unreservedly apologise to all those who have been victimised.”
The report’s recommendations include:
- An overhauled system to manage harassment and discrimination complaints.
- A review of selection criteria for jobs and promotions to weed out “unconscious bias”.
- New training in gender equality and bystander responsibility.
- A “restorative engagement project” to allow victims of sex discrimination and sexual harassment to confidentially report inappropriate behaviour and assault.
- A new, external “safe space” where victims can access unlimited confidential support.
- The development of a whole-of-organisation gender equality strategy, and a business case to deliver it.
- Establishment of new key performance indicators for leadership staff.
The new KPIs will include the number of women promoted, the number of sexual harassment complaints in a particular division, the proportion of staff under flexible work arrangements and the percentage who have undertaken gender equality training.
Stevens told reporters this morning that sexual harassment and sex discrimination were not only a “women’s issue”, and that the whole organisation would benefit from a better culture.
Commissioner for Equal Opportunity Dr Niki Vincent said the review had found women, lesbian, gay and bisexual SA Police staff were most likely to be targeted for harassment and discrimination within the force.
She said that reported instances of sexual harassment ranged from inappropriate comments and lewd jokes to sexual assault, adding that female SA Police staff were offered less training, professional development and promotions than their male co-workers.
Vincent writes, in her introduction to the report, that “the cultural problems at the heart of sex discrimination and sexual harassment will involve challenging and painful transormations, particularly for long-established, male dominated hierarchical organisations like SAPOL”.
MORE TO COME
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