“Here… the UK police have just covered up decades of child sexual abuse, their corrupt as fuck answering to a banking elite, countless of cases of male officers STALKING and RAPING vulnerable women… … yeah we imagine sexual harassment is a slight problem for UK forces!”
“Please welcome Petey the sexual harassment panda…
Guardian investigation shows fraction of complaints over past six years led to dismissal
More than half of British police forces received almost 450 complaints from staff and members of the public about sexual harassment.
Hundreds of people have claimed they were sexually harassed by male police officers in the past six years, prompting calls from senior officers for outdated and unacceptable behaviour to be “rooted out”.
A Guardian investigation using freedom of information laws has revealed that more than half of British police forces received almost 450 complaints from staff and members of the public about sexual harassment. They included accusations against senior detectives and inspectors.
Yet a fraction of the cases led to dismissal, with a number of cases simply resulting in an officer resigning or retiring.
The true number of harassment grievances was likely to be even higher as only 28 out of 43 police forces provided data, with many – including the Metropolitan police – claiming they were unable to supply information or had failed to respond within the time limit.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for professional ethics, Julian Williams, a chief constable, said sexual harassment 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. Where predatory behaviour exists, it requires the strongest response from policing, including the removal of individuals from the service,” he said.
One female police officer, speaking anonymously, said: “Most female police officers have had an experience of sexual harassment. We are talking about a whole spectrum of issues, from inappropriate comments or sexism. It’s a problem that won’t go away from this field of work and I am not sure why that is.”
The officer said she had to report a colleague in an old job. “The backlash I got from colleagues has put me off the idea of reporting it again … It happened when I was very new to a force, a male colleague was inappropriate. We had to crew-up on nights and he’d put his arms around my tummy and make comments. I reported it to my inspector, and other girls had came forward with similar issues so he lost his job … He had friends on rota and some said it was my fault and that I should not speak out of turn.”
She added that when she started somewhere else a female manager made a point of saying that if she ever had a problem with male members of staff she should talk to someone.
“It was a weird thing to say. In any force you will have one or two managers who have a reputation for using their power [over women] … but that’s probably the case in all professions. What makes it worse in policing is that as a profession we should know better. We are often dealing with vulnerable people and criminals. We are supposed to look after people.”
Unison’s national officer, Ben Priestley, said: “This behaviour has no place in the modern workplace. Neither staff nor the public should ever feel intimidated or degraded when dealing with the police. This goes against the very purpose of having police forces watching over and keeping communities safe.”
He added that the figures mirrored the trade union’s findings. A Unison survey of almost 1,800 police staff in England, Wales and Scotland, found half had heard sexualised jokes and one in five had received a sexually explicit email or text from a colleague.
About one in 25 said they had been pressured to have sex, and one in 12 was told that sexual favours could result in preferential treatment.
Prof Jennifer Brown, from the Mannheim centre for criminology at the London School of Economics, who led Unison’s research in this area, described it as a “hidden problem” in the police force.
Brown said research suggested sexual harassment tended to be more of an issue in uniformed services, such as the police. “It’s partly because of the gender ratio, more men in the working environment and sexual politics, so the idea that women are encroaching into areas that men have a monopoly over.”
Women constitute 29.8% of the police establishment in England and Wales, with 6,463 holding the rank of sergeant or above. This is 17.7% of the complement of serving female police officers (the equivalent percentage for male officers is 24.1%).
Brown said police fit in the top end of the reported ranges for harassment, but she added: “Interestingly, a different rate goes on [when it comes to] willingness to make a formal complaint … so it is not something people do easily or comfortably. I am not saying the police are necessarily hugely worse than other industries, but reporting rates tend to be a bit higher and you may expect a certain standard from the police.
“If their job is safeguarding you would like to think that the standards of behaviour from their own workforce is the highest.”
Data has shown 24 police staff, including constables, community support officers, crime scene investigators, clerks and detention officers were dismissed and 74 faced management action. A total of 48 staff members resigned or retired after a complaint was lodged.
Concern was also raised about the system in place to deal with harassment, with Brown saying it was not like other professions, such as nursing, where an independent team would hear a complaint.
She said: “It’s dealt with internally, so officers can resign before they are asked to appear before a disciplinary body. They may make a calculation – due to pension etc – that it is in their interest to go and so they may resign rather than be disciplined.
“It’s a messy landscape which should be overhauled but in the current climate I am not sure there is appetite to do that.”