Since the launch of our pretty damning report into sex discrimination and sexual harassment in Victoria Police over 12 months ago, we have seen a deep commitment by many senior leaders to tackle pervasive attitudes and behaviours that disadvantage and harm women, and in turn, undermine the status of Victoria Police as leaders in our community.
In recent days, this commitment has been demonstrated in a number of ways. Victoria Police’s latest recruitment drive has an unprecedented focus on women.
The Be a Force for Good campaign showcases women in the many different roles in which they should be enabled to thrive – be it facing real and acute danger on the frontline, supporting families in family violence crisis situations, or working with community groups.
The campaign sends an important message that a career in the police is for anyone from any background. The common attribute amongst our police force should not be their gender, rather a commitment to building a safe and respectful society.
We have also heard reports of a significant increase in the number of investigations into claims of sexual assault and harassment within the police force over the past 12 months. This has included a substantial increase in the number of reports of rape and sexual assault.
It would be easy to view these increases as markers of failure.
It remains deeply disturbing that these acts are being perpetrated within Victoria Police. But increased reporting of complaints does not necessarily correlate with increased prevalence.
It may suggest that recent changes within Victoria Police are starting to ensure victims and survivors of sexual harassment feel more empowered to make complaints about unacceptable and often illegal conduct.
These changes were desperately needed. Our report, which was based on hundreds of confidential exchanges with men and women from Victoria Police, found a deeply entrenched culture of sexism, coupled with a high tolerance for sexual harassment, which left women feeling harmed, sidelined and deeply disillusioned.
From across all levels, people spoke to us of a desire to radically change the culture that allows these attitudes and behaviours to fester.
Victoria Police does not have the monopoly on this sort of culture which is both attitudinal (the sexist jokes in the mess room) and structural (the failure to properly recruit and recognise women). It exists across many organisations and professions, often masked from public view. What is compelling about Victoria Police is its commitment to change this culture.
And this will take some time, and a sustained effort and leadership, not just from the senior ranks but from men and women across the force. Parts of this culture are deeply embedded and have gone unchecked for many years.
Later this year, the Commission will publish an audit of Victoria Police’s progress over the past 12 months. These audits will provide the opportunity for members to share their insights on work to date and provide map for ongoing change.
Gender equality isn’t a nice-to-have. It is not 'political correctness'. It is essential for a strong, dynamic and successful organisation. Only a police force that refuses to tolerate discrimination, harm and abuse within its ranks will be able to properly serve the diverse community that needs it.
Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner
Copyright Herald Sun, published 3 February 2017