Bullying and Harassment Rife Within the AFP

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Woman thinking

Former sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick, who conducted an investigation into the Australian Defence Force in 2011, has released her report into bullying and harassment within the Australian Federal Police (AFP).

Ms Broderick’s investigation, commissioned by AFP Chief Andrew Colvin, has taken six months to complete and included more than 1,000 interviews with officers and staff.

Bullying and harassment double the national average

The investigation found that 62% of men and 66% of women reported being bullied in the workplace within the past five years, and 46% of women and 20% of men reported being sexually harassed over the same time period – more than double the national average.

Many victims said they felt it was against their interests to formally complain, and several of those who did complain went on to regret it, due to the way their complaints were handled. Others said they did not complain for fear of being ostracised, or concern that a complaint would have a adverse consequences for their careers.

Only 18% of those bullied or sexually harassed sought assistance, and just one-third of that group went on to make a formal complaint.

The complaints

Ms Broderick’s report detailed a number of specific complaints, including:

A female promoted to a senior position was told, “you must give good blow jobs”.

Women are referred to by male colleagues as, “just a vagina”.

A woman announcing her pregnancy to a supervisor was told, “I thought we agreed you would keep your legs together”.

Of the total pool of AFP employees, just 35% are women — including 22% of police.

While men seemed surprised at the levels of harassment, women told a different story, with some reporting:

“You always hear people say, ‘we have enough women in our team’. It makes you feel like furniture.”

“I have likened some of my experiences here to [domestic violence]. It’s how you are made to feel — fearful, vulnerable and excluded.”

“I was told in recruits that I had to modify my personality when I got into the organisation as the AFP doesn’t like independent thinking, opinionated women. ”

While many women reported having worthwhile careers in the AFP, others said their experiences were tainted by the male dominated environment and a culture of sexism, as well as other challenges including the perception that they had to make a choice between career and family, and the negativity attached to maternity leave.

Many women reported that workplace sexual harassment was often dismissed:

“Sexual harassment gets swept under the carpet. Nothing gets done. The response is ‘Oh, it’s only him. He’s been doing that forever, that’s just him’.”

Confidence in the AFP

Despite her findings, Ms Broderick says the report offered no reason for the wider Australian community to have reduced confidence in the AFP.

“Quite the contrary. The report serves as a reminder that the AFP is committed to the principles of equality and diversity, to combatting sexual harassment, bullying and exclusion. Cultural change needs to be more than just turning up the volume on the standard modus operandi. And at times this might feel quite uncomfortable,” she reported.

“Leadership at all levels of the AFP must consistently and visibly commit to a zero tolerance approach to sexual harassment and bullying,” she added.

AFP Commissioner Colvin says he is as much to blame for the systemic behaviour as his predecessors. He committed to implementing all 24 recommendations of Ms Broderick’s recommendations, including:

  • Setting up a cultural reform board to help assist with cultural change.
  • Setting up a specialised, independent office to investigate sexual harassment and abuse and to support victims.
  • Advising all employees there will be a zero tolerance approach to sexual harassment and all incidents will be treated as serious matters.
  • Adopting an approach to allow flexible work opportunities and arrangements.

Only time will tell whether the Commissioner’s words will translate into actions, and lead to a reduction in bullying and harassment within our national police force.

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Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Criminal Law Specialist with 25 years of experience as a Criminal Defence Lawyer. He is the Principal of Sydney Criminal Lawyers®.

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