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Victoria Police face overhaul after review reveals sexual harassment

One of the main impacts on me was the realisation that that’s what blokes do. But actually now I know it’s not. It is what VicPol blokes do.

A radical overhaul is being launched at Victoria Police after an independent review uncovered “confronting” evidence of predatory behaviour, entrenched sexism and widespread discrimination among staff.

The full extent of the issue – which has been fully acknowledged and condemned as “terrible behaviours” which “must change” by Chief Commissioner of Police Graham Ashton – is revealed in a candid 366-page report conducted by the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission and released on Wednesday.

“We had to improve respect in the workplace and we had to create a culture where porn, where bad jokes, where sexual comments unwarranted, sexual advances, exclusionary behaviour all became a thing of the past,” Commissioner Ashton tells The Weekly Online.

“Because it’s that end of the spectrum that is the breeding ground of permissiveness that allows more extreme behaviours to occur.”

The review includes disturbing excerpts of personal experiences from victims working in the force, most of whom are women. Many recounted examples of predatory behaviour.

“One night [on a work-related trip] the inspector was in the next room and calling that he was thinking of me and masturbating and ejaculating on the wall between our rooms,” said one female staffer.

“I was really frightened with all those guys with a gut full of grog.”

“I was on a night shift,” said another. “I was in the van with a Senior Constable. He drove the van to a secluded spot and started putting the hard word on me. I froze. I thought what can I do here? … They saw young women like me as fresh blood … You feel like a piece of meat.”

Over 40 per cent of women – and seven per cent of men – taking part in the review said they had been victims of sexual harassment, while many experienced discrimination.

“From day dot, you are exposed to comments about boobs,” said a female employee.

“You … see them perving on women, you have to hear about who sleeps with who. That was the day my bubble burst. I thought it would pick up but it was a slow decline.”

“They would sit around the muster room and watch porn,” said another.

“One of the main impacts on me was the realisation that that’s what blokes do. But actually now I know it’s not. It is what VicPol blokes do.”

“Men run this organisation, and they run it to suit other men,” added another.

“Women get intimidated, stood over, spoken over, excluded and overlooked – all day, every day – in this job. Because of their gender.”

“It’s the same mentality as domestic violence but being perpetrated by the organisation … The nightmares I have are horrendous.”

While the report makes for grim reading, it is part of a new regime under Commissioner Ashton to change cultural attitudes within the force.

Victoria Police will implement all 20 recommendations in the report, says Commissioner Ashton, including amendments to flexible work and providing a “safe space” for victims to report inappropriate behaviours confidentially.

“We’ve set up an external provider that is independent of our organisation to be the receiving point for those calls, so when they do ring that independent number that that is the first point where we can start to hear about the matters ourselves and take action and be more responsive and proactive,” Commissioner Ashton tells The Weekly Online.

“To me, that will help to improve confidence in reporting and I think that is the first part we have to tackle… that starts today.”

Commissioner Ashton says Victoria Police called for the independent review to be public to not only make the organisation “committed to change” but to become a leader in fighting sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace.

“We’re hoping that this not only works to make Victoria Police a better organisation but it sets an example for others to follow.”

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