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Sexual harassment is 'systemic' in police workforce, union warns


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One in five police staff told researchers they had been touched by colleagues in a way which made them feel uncomfortable.

Chief Constable Julian Williams

Chief Constable Julian Williams

Date - 16th August 2018
By - JJ Hutber- Police Oracle
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A police chief says research showing eight per cent of police staff had been encouraged to give sexual favours makes for “uncomfortable reading”.

A first-of-a-kind London School of Economics and Political Science report into police staff experiences of sexual harassment, published with UNISON and the University of Surrey, found one in ten participants had witnessed or were the victim of unwelcome touching at work.

When asked whether he thought the results may have been skewed by “problem forces” UNISON national officer for police staff Ben Priestley said sexual harassment is “systemic” in policing and he was not surprised by the results.

“We deliberately didn’t ask about police forces in our research as staff were worried they would be identifying themselves.

“There could be forces with a larger problem than others but this is a systemic problem.

“What’s really concerning is that 39 per cent said keeping quiet is easier than complaining.

“We know that historically uniformed staff report higher levels of harassment than non-uniformed staff.

“Yes there is scope to dig deeper - this is just a sample survey of 1,776 participants.”

“Sexual harassment has a hugely detrimental impact on people’s careers. I don’t of a case where someone has left policing because of harassment but it is probable.”

He said he does not expect an overnight change but UNISON has been impressed with the response from the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), which has committed to developing a comprehensive action plan by October.

NPCC lead for Professional ethics Julian Williams added the survey findings, showing a lack of reluctance to report harassment, make for “uncomfortable reading”.

“It is something we are concerned about and take very seriously.”  

When asked why so many participants felt they would not be taken seriously he admitted: “I don’t know.

“This kind of behaviour is already in breach of the Code of Ethics, it’s completely unacceptable and we have done a lot of work with staff associations to root it out.

“It should already be clear that harassment in unacceptable particularly in the workplace.”

When asked whether there is a culture of permissiveness in policing he responded: “It’s not exclusive to policing. It’s an issue that many organisations struggle with.

“We need to get the message across that you will be taken seriously if you come forwards and you will be supported.

“I think it’s a case of how can we make it easier to report  harassment and how can we make our staff feel more comfortable bringing this issue up.”

The findings are based on a survey of 1,776 police staff in England, Wales and Scotland.

Half the police staff questioned had heard sexualised jokes being told repeatedly at work. One in five (19 per cent) had received a sexually explicit email or text from a colleague while six per cent said they had been sent an explicit poste or photo.

Researchers found the more serious the harassment, the less likely it was that the affected staff member would report it.

Nearly two in five survey respondents said keeping quiet was easier than complaining, and more than a third (37 per cent) said nothing would be done if they did complain.

According to 34 per cent of staff, the gossiping culture at work meant they didn’t believe the matter would be kept confidential, and 32 per cent felt they would not be taken seriously.

View On Police Oracle

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