Rank and vile

Her name is redacted. By necessity, none of the men or women who spoke to the inquiry are identified. Damning as the report is, officers still fear that standing up against abuse in the police force could end their careers.

“The worst side effect of my breakdown following years of ongoing sexual harassment and exclusion,” the officer told the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, “was not being able to wear my police uniform without breaking out in a cold sweat.”

Page after page, the commission’s report into sexual harassment and abuse in Victoria Police is studded with dreadful pain. “I will never forget what has happened,” one officer says. “For me, the harm is significant. My whole career is policing, I have so much more
 I want to give… Now, I can’t look at the uniform. Previously, it represented the best day of my life. But now when I look at it, I feel nauseated… I shake when I see a police car.”

And another, from a woman recalling the earliest moments of her career alongside her leading senior constable: “He was saying, ‘I reckon you would be the type of girl that if I got my cock out you would suck it.’ He kept pushing it. I kept thinking, ‘I am going to get raped in a police car. This is not an ideal start to my career.’”

In 2012, Australia was rightly appalled by a Human Rights Commission review into the treatment of women in the Australian Defence Force. Then chief of army David Morrison made combatting harassment and discrimination a touchstone of his leadership.

“I will be ruthless in ridding the army of people who cannot live up to its value, and I need every one of you to support me in achieving this...” he said a year later. “If you’re not up to it, find something else to do with your life. There is no place for you amongst this band of brothers and sisters.”

The Human Rights Commission report found 25 per cent of women in the Australian Defence Force had experienced sexual harassment. The report into Victoria Police, released this week, found 40 per cent of female officers had experienced sexual harassment.

These are terrible figures, made more terrible by the fact they are produced by the very men who are supposed to make society safe.

These figures are evidence of a rotten culture – a culture of machismo and silence. “It’s entitlement,” one woman told the commission. “There is no better word to describe policemen. It’s like they think, ‘I’ll claim her, even if I can’t have sex with her, I will still own her.’ Women are sexually objectified; their value reduced to their potential as a sexual conquest.”

These men have too little understanding of the crimes they are supposed to police. The ignorance is dangerous and inexcusable, the values despicable.

“They don’t get violence against women – they don’t get the gender analysis, the violence, and the impact,” another female officer said. “They don’t think it’s their job – they just get the bad guy. They often say ‘she’s a frequent flyer’,’ it’s a false report’, and ‘she’s having us on’.”

And again, from a police woman raped by her colleague: “People would joke about the perpetrator’s behaviour all the time, saying things like ‘he will just get them drunk, it’s not rape then’. Another night the same perpetrator offered another young girl a lift home. The same sergeant encouraged it.”

Victoria Police has immediately and unequivocally endorsed the recommendations of this report. Systems will change. A redress scheme will be established.

But more needs to be done. An inquiry such as this needs to be launched in every state police force.

The alternative is too simply spelt out on page 73 of the report: “I found it hard to recommend any female to join the Victoria Police force as I know what attitudes and behaviours they will face through their years of employment.”

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on December 12, 2015 as "Rank and vile".

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