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Sexual harassment of police staff revealed

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police staff, sexual harassment, report, UNISON, National Police Chiefs’ Council, police chiefs, pledge, LSE, University of Surrey report‘Keeping quiet was easier than complaining’ and ‘nothing would be done if they did complain’.

Police chiefs have pledged to act over high levels of sexual harassment among police staff working for police forces in England and Wales which were set out in a combined report published last month by UNISON, the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and the University of Surrey.

Details include some police staff (4 per cent) being pressurised into having sex with colleagues, or being told that sexual favours could result in preferential treatment (8 per cent).

And the LSE researchers found that the more serious the harassment, the less likely it was that the affected staff member reported it.

Nearly two in five (39 per cent) 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.

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

It focusessed on what working life is like for police staff including police community support officers, crime scene investigators, clerks, fingerprint experts and detention officers. It did not look at the experience of police officers.

And the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) said the report has highlighted some ‘outdated and unacceptable behaviour’.

The analysis of the findings is a joint venture between Professor Jennifer Brown from the LSE, and UNISON, which represents police staff.

UNISON is now working with the National Police Chiefs’ Council to address and eradicate sexual harassment.

The survey showed that half (49 per cent) 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.

The survey also reveals that:

a third (33 per cent) have faced intrusive questioning about their private lives;

more than a fifth (21 per cent) have experienced inappropriate staring or leering;

almost one in five (18 per cent) have been touched in a way that made them feel uncomfortable;

a similar percentage (18 per cent) have seen colleagues make sexual gestures at work;

12 per cent have witnessed/been the subject of unwelcome touching, kissing or hugging

11 per cent have been asked out on a date by a colleague, despite making it clear they were not interested; and

6 per cent have been sent an explicit post or photo.

In the vast majority of cases, the survey found that colleagues – either police officers or staff – had instigated the sexually harassing behaviour.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council’s Lead for Professional Ethics, Chief Constable Julian Williams, said: “The UNISON and LSE research into sexual harassment among police staff is important. It shines a light on policing and finds some outdated and unacceptable behaviour that must be rooted out.

“This behaviour falls short of the high standards set in the Code of Ethics, which each member of the policing profession is expected to uphold.

“We invited UNISON and the LSE to speak to all chief constables about their findings in July.

“There is already good practice in forces with staff surveys to identify the level of unreported sexual harassment, training and campaigns but we need to do more.

“We have committed to developing a comprehensive action plan by October that addresses the range of harassment found. Some of the behaviour described is predatory and requires the strongest response from police with individuals removed from the service.

“Other behaviours like the repeated telling of sexualised jokes may not be malicious in intent but are misguided and damaging, and our focus will be on finding effective ways of challenging them.”

And Professor Jennifer Brown, co-director of the Mannheim Centre at LSE, who led the research, said: “This research finds levels of sexual harassment consistent with that reported in police forces internationally as well as other workplace surveys.

“This is a serious problem for police forces.  When staff are already under pressure, what they need is to be able to work in an environment that respects them rather than generates yet further stress.” 

UNISON’s assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Sexual harassment has no place in the modern workplace.

“Perpetrators must be confronted and dealt with immediately. Otherwise their behaviour could escalate from filthy jokes to more serious forms of sexual harassment.

“No member of police staff should feel intimidated, degraded or humiliated at work.

“Employees who witness or experience this abhorrent and unacceptable behaviour need reassurance that they will be listened to, and believed, and that effective action will be taken to end the harassment.”

To read the executive summary of the UNISON/LSE report ‘Time to Stamp Out Sexual Harassment in the Police’ click here.

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