AFP vows action after report finds sexual harassment, bullying rife
Advertisement

AFP vows action after report finds sexual harassment, bullying rife

The Australian Federal Police has urged dozens of members who may have been the victims of rapes or attempted rapes by colleagues to come forward after a shocking report found "pervasive" sexual harassment and bullying in the organisation.

In a finding that has echoes of the revelations that have shaken the Australian Defence Force in recent years, a major study of the AFP's internal culture by former sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick indicated about 30 staff members had been victims of rape or attempted rape in the past five years.

AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin has issued an apology to sexual harassment and bullying victims.

AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin has issued an apology to sexual harassment and bullying victims.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

The study found 46 per cent of women and 20 per cent of men reported being sexually harassed or abused in some way in the workplace, which is almost double the national average. Sixty-six per cent of women and 62 per cent of men said they had been bullied.

Australian of the Year David Morrison, who drove cultural change within the army as its chief, said on Monday night he would contact AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin.

Advertisement
<p>

"I see exactly the same sort of buy-in being made clear by Andrew Colvin and his team, and I can only wish them all the best ... because if they can focus on this and meet the challenge, we will all have a better police force as a result," he said.

Mr Colvin admitted internal processes for dealing with complaints were inadequate. He apologised to past and present victims.

"The report has exposed pockets of behaviour that I can only describe as criminal," Mr Colvin said. "I think the organisation will be shocked at these findings. I think the public will be shocked at these findings."

The figures come from a survey in which respondents remained anonymous. Mr Colvin stressed the force's handling of complaints would improve and said victims who had been deterred about taking action should feel confident now.

Report author Elizabeth Broderick and Mr Colvin address the media on Monday.

Report author Elizabeth Broderick and Mr Colvin address the media on Monday.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

"I ask all of those members, both past and present, to reconsider bringing them forward," he said. "The processes that we have put in place today will be different.

"Let me be very clear: if there are criminal behaviours, they will be dealt with, because we have to take a stand on this. We cannot be an organisation of law enforcement integrity if within our own organisation we have people who are flouting the rules."

He said the new processes would ensure confidentiality and make sure victims were not "revictimised every time they tell their story".

Ms Broderick described Mr Colvin as "a courageous leader" for confronting the issue.

"AFP members who have suffered these behaviours do not believe that the current complaints mechanism is delivering," she said.

Mr Colvin said he would implement all 24 recommendations in the report, most urgently an independent office to investigate complaints and help victims, which he described as "a safe place".

He said some cases of sexual assault in the AFP had been investigated in the past, but the anonymity of the survey made it impossible to say whether incidents cited by respondents had been looked into.

"It sickens me that there may be people in my organisation who have been the perpetrators of these," he said.

Australian Federal Police Association president Angela Smith praised the review and said plans to improve the handling of complaints were "a huge step forward".

"I have had members in tears talking to me about their issues with bullying in the workplace," she said. "Nine times out of 10, the outcome offered to the victim is being moved to another area."

The report relied on a survey of about 2000 staff and focus group discussions with about 1000. The figure of up to 30 rape or attempted rape victims is based on the 2 per cent who specified this as the type of sexual abuse they had suffered.

One woman is cited in the report as saying: "I was assaulted by an executive a few years ago. I didn't report it because I have a lack of faith in how the executive would handle it."

Many said there was a lack of confidentiality in professional standards investigations and those who made complaints were ostracised.

The survey was also told of a male AFP member who was found to have sexually harassed a colleague and was supposed to be discharged but was not.

"He should never be allowed to have any authority over women," a male colleague said.

Other respondents talked of women officers being described as "just a vagina". One woman said she was moved from her role because she wouldn't sleep with her co-ordinator.

A woman who had been promoted was told by a male colleague: "You must give good blow jobs." Others spoke of being groped or flashed.

Follow us on Twitter

David Wroe is defence and national security correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

Most Viewed in Politics

Loading
Advertisement