What’s been happening in Australia in relation to workplace sexual harassment, discrimination and bullying from 7 – 13 December 2015?

Victorian Police Culture of Sexual Harassment
The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission has released the findings on the nature and prevalence of sex discrimination and sexual harassment within Victoria Police. Of the 5000 Victorian Police members who responded to the survey, 40% of women and 7% of men had experienced sexual harassment. For women, that rate is 7% higher than experiences of sexual harassment in the community (33%). Women also experienced higher rates of “unwelcome touching” than those in the broader community.

The report found that sexual harassment was most likely to occur in a station or office environment, and women were more likely then men to also experience it off-site e.g. while on patrol. Two-thirds of female participants, and over half of male participants had witnessed at least one form of sexual harassment in the workplace in the past 5 years.

The report made 20 recommendations including the development of a redress scheme to provided financial and non-financial support to victims, the creation of a gender and diversity strategy and improving financial pathways for women.

Reparation Scheme Recommended for Victorian Police
The 943 Victorian Police employees who told the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission that they had suffered sexual predatory behaviour, sexual harassment or sex discrimination in the workplace are expected to be eligible to apply for up to $50 000. The VEOHRC report recommended setting up a reparation scheme to help victims. It is expected that more victims will come forward now that officers do not have to file an official complaint before receiving support. Police will have access to a 24/7 hotline where members can make complaints.

The review highlights how sexually inappropriate and criminal behaviour by some officers has been ‘rewarded rather than punished.’ Rather than sacking or disciplining officers found to have engaged in this behaviour, the force has moved offenders from station to station. Some of these officers have continued to offend after being transferred. In the cases the review was informed about, the new workplace was not made aware of the problematic conduct, and instead was given positive references about the person. Participants in the survey also noted that senior personnel who had been subject to investigation for complaints were rewarded or compensated.

The report also accused Victoria Police of allowing officers to resign instead of charging them with criminal or discipline offences. Members who resign under investigation may be issued with a statement of service which would mean that a future employer or other interested party would have almost no means of being made aware of the fact that the former police member resigned under investigation.

Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius believes that the process of tackling the sexist culture of Victorian Police will be a 3-5 year project.

Victorian Police Bullying Claim
Former leading senior constable Nicki Lewis has alleged that she experienced homophobic taunts and threats of an attack with a Taser while working in regional Victoria. Mrs Lewis alleges that her co-workers “spread false rumours about her having a sexually transmitted disease and warned others not to touch her belongings.” Mrs Lewis claims that when she brought the bullying behaviour to the attention of another male colleague, he “minimised what was happening by treating it like it was just some ‘lesbian drama.’” Mrs Lewis is currently on a disability pension, awaiting the outcome of her bullying case.

Australian Medical Association.
The Australian Medical Association has advocated a zero tolerance approach to workplace bullying and sexual harassment. The AMA has issued a Position Statement on Workplace Bullying and Harassment, and a position statement on Sexual Harassment in the Medical Workplace.