As we have reported, over recent months, the medical and education industry sectors are just two of those in which individuals have pursued claims and spoken up to allege that they have been bullied and sexually harassed at work. This week, it is the turn of Victoria Police.
The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC) has interviewed nearly 5000 employees of Victoria Police, following allegations of sexual harassment and bullying made by its members and former members. The report has been one of the largest investigations to date into sexual harassment in any workforce, and its findings are disturbing and profound.
The reputational and economic damage to the police by the allegations was apparent even before the VEOHRC report was released, with the stories of those who came forward as part of the investigations headlining on major news channels and newspapers across Australia.
Chief Police Commissioner, Graham Ashton, has spoken out in response to the report, confirming that its findings show discrimination is “endemic in Victoria Police”. The report is confronting, confirming that nearly 500 police had been sexually harassed by a colleague, with less than 10 having been assaulted, including by rape and attempted rape.
The task now facing the police is to transform its culture. Inevitably, this will be difficult, but the urgency is clear. Employee morale, productivity, recruitment and retention issues will become big hurdles.
Mr Ashton has left no doubt that the police intend to respond rapidly and positively. Speaking this week, he confirmed, “It is absolutely time for a change…there will be no turning back from this point”. A compensation scheme will also now be implemented to compensate the victims of sexual abuse and discrimination in the force.
Mr Ashton’s response is echoed by the VEOHRC Commissioner, Kate Jenkins. Ms Jenkins’ conclusion from the report is that a “complete cultural reset” is required in the police, and she commended the organisation for showing the desire to change.
No organisation is immune from the damage that has occurred in Victoria Police. The key message for any organisation, public or private, large or small, is to ensure that an unhealthy or unethical culture does not go unnoticed. A culture where unlawful behaviour is eradicated wherever possible and where employees speak against it early because they are well trained and supported, will thrive.
Ms Jenkins took the opportunity to emphasise this point. She called on other organisations “to not wait for your own scandal but to take the lead and make some changes”.